In blow to Boris Johnson, British MPs vote to delay Brexit deal decision
Before the latest Brexit agreement reached with Brussels on Thursday could be tabled and voted upon, speaker John Bercow selected an amendment moved by rebel Conservative MP Oliver Letwin, which was passed by 322 to 302 votes.Updated: Oct 19, 2019 21:00 IST
The euphoric overtones of Prime Minister Boris Johnson reaching a new Brexit agreement on Thursday evaporated on Saturday when the House of Commons voted to force him to seek a delay to the Brexit date of October 31, a situation he has often rejected.
Under a law passed in September, Johnson needs to seek a delay until January 31 if the House of Commons does not pass an EU withdrawal agreement by the end of October 19. He has until 11 pm on Saturday to seek the delay in a letter to Brussels.
Johnson’s plan to win parliamentary approval was the main item on the agenda on the special Saturday sitting of the House, which has not met on the day since the 1982 Falklands War. But ruling party rebels, allies and the opposition joined hands again to stymie his plans.
It is the third time Brussels will be asked for an extension, after former prime minister Theresa May secured extensions on March 29 and April 12, when the Brexit agreement her team had negotiated was voted down in parliament.
On Saturday, before Johnson’s agreement could be tabled and voted upon, speaker John Bercow selected an amendment moved by rebel Conservative MP Oliver Letwin, which was passed 322 to 302 votes, much to the government’s chagrin.
After the amendment was passed, the government dropped the motion seeking approval for the Brexit agreement, but Johnson promised to bring it again in the House in the form of a bill on Tuesday, when the government will hope to get it passed.
Johnson said after the amendment was passed: “Alas the opportunity to have a meaningful vote has been effectively been passed up because the meaningful vote has been voided of meaning…But I wish the House to know that I’m not daunted or dismayed…”.
“I continue in the very strong belief that the best thing for the UK and for the whole of Europe is for us to leave with this new deal on October 31. And to anticipate the questions that are coming from the benches opposite, I will not negotiate a delay with the EU, and neither does the law compel me to do so”.
“So next week the Government will introduce the legislation needed for us to leave the EU with our new deal on October 31….I will continue to do all I can to get Brexit done on October 31 and I continue to commend this excellent deal”.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said after the amendment was passed: “The prime minister must now comply with the law. He can no longer use the threat of a no-deal crash-out to blackmail MPs to support his sell-out deal.”
Besides Labour, Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party, those who voted against the government included the Democratic Unionist Party, which has been propping up the minority Conservative government since the 2017 mid-term election.
Voting on the amendment was preceded by five hours of debate when MPs rehearsed their argument for and against Brexit, with Johnson imploring MPs to oppose the amendment and back the Brexit agreement.
“Let us come together as democrats behind this deal, the one proposition that fulfils the verdict of the majority but which also allows us to bring together the two halves of our hearts, to bring together the two halves of our nation,” he urged.
A spokeswoman for the European Commission reacted to the news from London: “The European Commission takes note of the vote in the House of Commons today on the so-called Letwin amendment meaning that the withdrawal agreement itself was not put to vote today”.
“It will be for the UK government to inform us about the next steps as soon as possible”.