The House of Commons has denied a motion by U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson to force a snap election on Oct. 15.

Johnson failed to gain the required two-thirds majority in Wednesday’s vote, which came shortly after MPs approved a bill designed to force him to seek a further delay to Brexit rather than leave the EU with no deal on the scheduled departure date of Oct. 31. 

Johnson needed the backing of at least 434 lawmakers, but only 298 voted in favour of an election while 56 voted against. The opposition Labour Party instructed its MPs to abstain. 

Johnson taunted Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, saying this was the first time in history the opposition has voted to “show confidence in Her Majesty’s government.”

The PM said he could only speculate as to the reasons why Corbyn would order his party to refrain from voting.  

“The obvious conclusion is, I’m afraid, that he does not think he will win.”

Passage of the earlier Brexit bill underlined the lack of support for Johnson’s vow to take the U.K. out of the European Union with or without a deal. The bill now goes to the U.K.’s unelected upper chamber for approval.

An alliance of opposition MPs had the backing of 21 rebels from Johnson’s Conservative Party on the bill which would seek a three-month extension from the EU if Johnson has not secured a deal by the deadline.

Johnson cast the rebellion as an attempt to surrender to the EU and vowed never to delay Brexit beyond Oct. 31. 

The manoeuvres are part of a head-on showdown between Johnson’s Brexit-at-all-costs administration and a Parliament worried about the economic and social damage that could be wrought by a messy divorce.

The current Parliament’s bid to tie Johnson’s hands leaves Brexit up in the air, with possible outcomes ranging from a no-deal exit to abandoning the whole endeavour — both outcomes that would be unacceptable to swathes of U.K. voters.

Johnson said the bill had sunk his Brexit negotiations with the EU and was designed to overturn the 2016 referendum on leaving the bloc.

“It’s therefore a bill without precedent in the history of this house, seeking as it does to force the prime minister with a pre-drafted letter to surrender in international negotiations,” Johnson told Parliament. “I refuse to do this.”

“This house has left no other option than letting the public decide who they want as prime minister.”

The British pound had earlier jumped above $1.22 for the first time since Aug. 30 as investors became slightly more optimistic that a “no-deal” Brexit could be avoided.

An anti-Brexit protester holds a placard outside Parliament in London on Wednesday. (Dylan Martinez/Reuters)

Election still looms 

Beyond the frantic political manoeuvring, the U.K. could still at some point leave the EU with a deal to smooth the transition, leave without a deal, or cancel Brexit.

A prospective election would offer three likely alternatives: a Brexiteer government under Johnson; a Labour government led by veteran socialist Jeremy Corbyn, who has promised a fresh referendum with staying in the EU as an option; and a “hung” Parliament with a coalition or minority government.

“If I am still prime minister after Tuesday the 15th of October, then we will leave on the 31st of October with, I hope, a much better deal,” Johnson told Parliament.

Johnson said he hoped to get a new deal at an EU summit scheduled for Oct. 17-18, but his opponents doubt he can achieve a better deal than the one his predecessor Theresa May negotiated but failed to get through Parliament.

Opponents of Brexit say an acrimonious no-deal departure would be a disaster for what was one of the West’s most stable democracies, shattering supply chains, damaging global growth and weakening Britain’s standing in the world.

Many supporters of Brexit, though, say those fears are overblown and that, while there may be short-term disruption, it would provide a clean break from the struggling bloc and allow the United Kingdom to thrive.

Reshaping politics

In a sign of how far Brexit has distorted British politics, Johnson’s Conservatives said on Tuesday they were expelling 21 rebels — including the grandson of Britain’s World War Two leader Winston Churchill and two former finance ministers — from the party for seeking to block any no-deal exit.

Yet despite Johnson’s efforts to up the ante, the EU has refused to renegotiate the agreement reached with May.

In Brussels, British and EU diplomats made clear there was no immediate prospect of substantive negotiations on a divorce deal as Britain’s new negotiator arrived for talks.

And Ireland, said Johnson, had not yet presented any solutions to address the backstop — the toughest part of the Brexit impasse, concerning checks on the land border between the Irish Republic and the British province of Northern Ireland.

There were reports in British newspapers that Johnson’s top adviser Dominic Cummings had described negotiations as a sham.

Asked on Wednesday if that was how he saw the Brexit negotiations with the EU, Cummings told Reuters: “No. I never said that.”