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Boris Johnson Faces First Election Test Against an Anti-Brexit Alliance

LONDON — A special election in Britain on Thursday offered the first electoral test for the country’s new prime minister, Boris Johnson, and could cut his already slim working majority in Parliament to just one.

During his first week in power, Mr. Johnson has sought to project the image of an energetic leader who is determined to take Britain out of the European Union by an Oct. 31 deadline and who is willing to risk a disorderly withdrawal without an agreement if necessary.

But Thursday’s election, in the Brecon and Radnorshire region of Wales, is a reminder of the fragility of his position in Parliament. A majority of lawmakers in London have previously voted against a “no deal” Brexit, and further moves are underway in the legislature to try to block such an outcome.

The possibility of leaving the European Union on Oct. 31 without a deal has also put pressure on the British pound. On Thursday, the currency fell below $1.21, a level not seen in two and a half years.

While defeat in the special election would increase the prospects of Mr. Johnson’s seeking to win a bigger majority in a general election in the fall, victory for his Conservative Party candidate would be a major fillip, prolonging the sense of a political honeymoon. Results are expected early Friday.

Normally, the Conservatives would expect to retain the Brecon and Radnorshire seat, having comfortably won it in the 2017 general election with around 8,000 more votes than went to the centrist Liberal Democrats, in second place.

But the circumstances that prompted the election complicate matters for Mr. Johnson’s Conservatives. Their candidate, Chris Davies, was unseated by a petition of local voters after he was convicted of making a false expenses claim.

Although Mr. Davies, 51, admitted submitting two false invoices for nine photographs costing 700 pounds, or about $850, to decorate his office, his party selected him again to fight the seat.

He is in a fight with the Liberal Democrats, who want to stop Brexit. The Liberal Democrats have performed well in recent local and European elections and, to maximize their prospects in the Welsh vote, have struck a “Remain alliance” among like-minded parties. That has made Brecon and Radnorshire something of a test case for future cooperation among opponents of Brexit.

Under this pact, neither the Welsh nationalist party, Plaid Cymru, nor the Greens — both of which oppose Brexit — are contesting the seat, giving the Liberal Democrats a clearer run. Britain’s main opposition party, Labour — which opposes a no-deal Brexit but whose leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is more equivocal about remaining in the European Union — is fighting for the seat.

Mr. Johnson’s first week in charge prompted a lift for the Conservatives in some opinion polls, but his tour of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland underscored worries about the economic, political and constitutional risks of a no-deal withdrawal.

Since arriving in Downing Street, Mr. Johnson has hardened the Conservative Party’s stance on Brexit, and on Thursday his government announced that it was setting aside an additional £2.1 billion to prepare for the possibility of leaving without a deal. Some of that money would be used to recruit border officers and to introduce an advertising campaign to prepare businesses for the disruption of leaving the European Union without an agreement.

There is also competition for the Conservatives in Brecon and Radnorshire from the Brexit Party, the upstart populist political force led by Nigel Farage. The Brexit Party wants to leave the European Union as quickly as possible, is content to confront the disruption of a disorderly withdrawal, and says that Mr. Johnson cannot be trusted to deliver.

Although the Conservative Party holds 311 seats in the House of Commons, by convention, one of those, the deputy speaker, is among a handful of lawmakers who do not vote.

The opposition parties (excluding Sinn Fein lawmakers from Northern Ireland, who do not take up their seats in Westminster) together can muster 318 votes.

However, the Conservatives have an alliance with the 10 lawmakers from the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland. As things stand, that gives the government a two-seat margin.

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