British Prime Minister Boris Johnson lost his active majority in parliament on Tuesday with the dramatic defection of a member of the party before a confrontation with parliamentarians on Brexit that could lead to an early general election.
In a heated parliamentary session, Johnson condemned a plan by lawmakers to block his Brexit strategy as "surrender" and said it would undermine his intention to negotiate a new divorce agreement with the EU.
Opposition parliamentarians and rebel members of their conservative party plan to vote for a delay beyond October 31 if they cannot agree to the terms of departure with Brussels.
While Johnson made his statement, Conservative Deputy Phillip Lee was seen crossing the floor of the Commons to sit with the pro-European liberal Democrats.
Lee said in his resignation letter that the Conservative Party "has been infected with the twin diseases of populism and English nationalism" as a result of Brexit.
Parliamentarians will first try to make room on the parliamentary agenda for a debate on the bill by presenting a motion that parliamentarians will vote on Tuesday night.
If they succeed, they will present their bill on Wednesday and try to do so before parliament is suspended next week.
Johnson's advisers warned that the defeat in a first vote in the House of Commons scheduled for 2000 GMT on Tuesday would force him to call early elections on October 14.
Johnson would need the support of the main opposition Labor Party to call a quick poll, since the law requires the backing of two thirds of parliamentarians.
Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn said Johnson really did not intend to make a deal with Brussels and, instead, planned to take Britain out of the EU.
"His is a government without a mandate, without morals and, as of today, without a majority," he said.
The rebels believe they have the numbers to force through the plan, which is backed by the main opposition Labor Party and could delay Brexit until January 31.
Lee's defection means that the prime minister no longer has a majority in the 650-seat chamber.
Government numbers could be further reduced if you dismiss parliamentarians who vote against you later on Tuesday.
But losing the majority does not automatically bring down the government, as this can only happen if the government loses a formal vote of confidence.
On a day of great drama, an Edinburgh court also heard a legal challenge against Johnson's decision to suspend parliament next week for more than a month, which critics said was an attempt to silence parliamentarians.
The judge is expected to announce his ruling on Wednesday.
The rise in political tension caused the British pound to fall to its lowest level on Tuesday against the dollar in almost three years.
$ 16 billion lost
Johnson took office less than six weeks ago, after his predecessor, Theresa May, was forced to abandon his Brexit divorce agreement through parliament.
From the beginning, he faced opposition from his own parliamentarians who fear that his threat to leave the EU without an agreement with Brussels runs the risk of serious economic disruption.
The government's leaked assessments have warned that no agreement could lead to food, fuel and medicine shortages.
The UN economists also warned on Tuesday that Britain could lose at least $ 16 billion (14.6 billion euros) a year in exports to the European Union if it left without an agreement.
& # 39; There are no concrete proposals & # 39;
Johnson has rejected the divorce agreement on the table, but insists he wants to reach an agreement with Brussels to facilitate the end of the 46-year British membership in the EU.
EU leaders have refused to reopen the current Brexit text, but Johnson insists that progress is being made, saying that only with a credible threat to withdraw will he achieve a new agreement.
But critics point out that there are no formal negotiations with Brussels, and both sides have stepped up preparations for a messy divorce next month.
A spokeswoman for the European Commission said Tuesday that it had not yet seen any "concrete proposal" from London on how it wants to change the existing agreement.
Corbyn has repeatedly asked for an election and warned that if the legislative route fails, he can try to force a vote by calling for a vote of confidence in the government.
But many Labor MPs also fear a trap.
Johnson's aides insist that elections will be held before Brexit, but some of his opponents fear he may change the date at the last minute after October 31.
This would leave parliament impotent to stop a Brexit "without agreement."