Parliament suspended over Brexit

Pro-Brexit banners are propped against a wall near Parliament in London, Monday, Sept. 9, 2019. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson voiced optimism Monday that a new Brexit deal can be reached so Britain leaves the European Union by Oct. 31. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

LONDON -- British lawmakers demanded Monday that Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government release officials' private correspondence about plans for Brexit, as the government prepared to suspend Parliament and send rebellious lawmakers home until two weeks before the country is supposed to leave the European Union.

Lawmakers used the remaining hours before the session of Parliament ended to deliver new blows to Johnson's teetering authority. An opposition-backed measure designed to stop Britain from crashing out of the EU on Oct. 31 without a divorce deal became law after receiving the formal assent of Queen Elizabeth II.

"It is blindingly obvious why we are being shut down -- to prevent scrutiny," Labour Party Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said.

Under parliamentary rules, the government is obliged to release the documents.

In a statement, the government said it would "consider the implications of this vote and respond in due course."

Lawmakers also rejected Johnson's demand for a snap election to break the political deadlock engulfing the government.

Meanwhile, Speaker John Bercow, whose control of business in the House of Commons has made him a central player in the Brexit drama, announced he would step down after a decade in the job.

Britain is due to leave the EU on Oct. 31, and Johnson has said the country's delayed exit must happen then, with or without a divorce agreement to smooth the way. But many lawmakers fear a no-deal Brexit would be economically devastating and are determined to stop him.

An opposition-backed law compelling the government to seek a three-month delay from the EU if no deal has been agreed by Oct 19 became law Monday after receiving royal assent.

Johnson has said he would "rather be dead in a ditch" than postpone Brexit, but has few easy ways out of it. His options include disobeying the law, which could land him in court or even prison, and resigning so someone else would have to ask for a delay.

The prime minister has had a turbulent week since Parliament returned from its summer break Sept. 3. He kicked 21 lawmakers out of the Conservative group in Parliament after they sided with the opposition, and saw two ministers quit his government -- one of them his own brother.

Later Monday, Johnson planned to ask lawmakers to back an early election, which he sees as the only way to break the deadlock. His hope is to win a majority to support his Brexit strategy.

But opposition parties voted the measure down, because they want to make sure a no-deal departure is blocked before agreeing to an election.

Opponents call the suspension of Parliament anti-democratic and illegal, but Johnson said he is cutting short the parliamentary term so he can outline his domestic agenda at a new session of Parliament in October.

Johnson repeated his insistence Monday Britain must exit the EU on Oct. 31, but acknowledged leaving without an agreement on divorce terms "would be a failure of statecraft" for which he would be partially to blame.