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MPs vote to delay Brexit deal decision, Johnson bent on Oct 31 deadline

Lawmakers voted 322 to 306 in favor of an amendment by former Tory minister Oliver Letwin, which forces Johnson to request an extension whatever the outcome of Saturday's proceedings

Robert Hutton Kitty Donaldson & Greg Ritchie | Bloomberg 

Boris Johnson
UK PM Boris Johnson | Photo: AP/PTI

Parliament voted for to request a further delay to after a day of high tension in the House of Commons in London. The prime minister, who said the choice is his deal or no deal, said he will not “negotiate delay” with the European Union and will introduce the legislation needed next week for the UK to leave the EU on October 31.

Lawmakers voted 322 to 306 in favour of an amendment by former Tory minister Oliver Letwin which requires Johnson to request an extension until January 31. Letwin said the amendment provides insurance against crashing out without an agreement on October 31. Johnson said he will tell the EU that further delay would be “bad for this country, bad for the European Union and bad for democracy.”

The prime minister, who said the choice is his deal or no deal, needed to win the approval of lawmakers today or seek a further delay from the European Union.

Key Developments

  • MPs vote by 322 to 306 for Letwin amendment
  • Protesters converge on Parliament in anti-demonstration
  • It's my deal or no deal, says Johnson, won't negotiate delay with EU
  • Will introduce law next week for the UK to leave the EU on Oct 31

All In a Day's Work

EU Takes Note of Commons Vote on Delay (3:40 p.m. GMT)

The European Commission said it has taken note of the House of Commons vote on the Letwin amendment and urged the British government to clarify the next steps.

“It will be for the U.K. government to inform us about the next steps as soon as possible,” Mina Andreeva, chief spokeswoman for the Brussels-based commission, the EU’s executive arm in Brussels, said in a twitter post.

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Co-ordinator, said the body’s Brexit steering group will consider the result of the Commons vote on Monday. “Whatever happens next, the marches outside the Parliament show just how important a close EU -- UK future relationship is,” he said on Twitter.

Another Vote Mooted for Monday (3:25 p.m.)

Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg announced that on Monday there will be a debate on a section of the European Union Withdrawal Act 2018 -- raising the possibility of another vote on Boris Johnson’s deal.

Together they raise the possibility of two votes on the Brexit deal on consecutive days. Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow said he would seek clarity on the government’s plans. By Monday Johnson should have requested an extension from Brussels in accordance with the requirements of the Benn Act.

The Meaning of Johnson’s Ambiguity (3:15 p.m.)

Boris Johnson’s elliptical response to the Letwin vote (see 3 p.m.) could be understood as suggesting he won’t send a letter to the EU, and in a briefing his office declined to clarify what he meant.

But it’s clear from his earlier comments, and from his team’s approach to proceedings on Monday, that a letter requesting an extension will be sent to the EU. If the bloc agrees to it -- and the text of the letter is specified in law -- then the government is obliged to accept.

In his comments to the House of Commons on Saturday morning, Johnson acknowledged he would have to write to the EU. “Whatever letters they may seek to force the government to write, it cannot change my judgment that further delay is pointless, expensive and deeply corrosive of public trust,” he said.

Johnson Pledges to Press on With Brexit (3 p.m.)

said he’ll press on with Brexit and ruled out negotiating a further delay to Brexit with the European Union after losing a vote intended to force him to request an extension from the bloc.

“I will not negotiate a delay with the EU and neither does the law require me to do so,” Johnson said. “Next week the government will introduce the legislation needed to leave the European Union with our new deal on Oct. 31.”

The Benn Act, passed last month, required Johnson to write to the EU by 11 p.m. tonight if he was unable to get his deal agreed by Parliament.

Campaigners Celebrate at Delay to Vote (2:55 p.m.)

A raucous cheer erupted from the crowd packing Parliament Square after the result of the vote on Oliver Letwin’s amendment was announced. They had marched through central London towards Parliament to demand another referendum on leaving the EU.

It had started raining moments earlier, but it didn’t dampen the mood among the buoyant crowd.

Gove appeals For Unity In Commons Vote (2:30 p.m.)

Before MPs left the chamber to vote, Brexit Minister Michael Gove closed the debate for the government, arguing they should “honor democracy” and vote Boris Johnson’s deal through.

He said he hoped that, come the end of the day, the “vote in 2016 that we promised to honor will after three and a half years of deadlock and division be honored by a House that is at last ready to unite.”

Speaking for the opposition, Labour business spokeswoman Rebecca Long-Bailey emphasized the economic impact of the deal. “For business, for our industry and for our manufacturing, it reduces access to the market of our biggest trade partner, threatening jobs up and down our country,” she said.

“This is a bad deal for industry, a bad deal for manufacturing and more importantly a bad deal for jobs.”

Demonstrators Fill Parliament Square (1:50 p.m.)

A large crowd gathered outside Parliament after marching across central London demanding a referendum on Boris Johnson’s deal.

Parliament Square was full of singing protesters waving EU and British flags as tens of thousands more packed Whitehall – the road between Parliament and Trafalgar Square which houses government buildings. They carried banners calling for a second referendum and chanted “Object to Brexit”.

#BrexitDeal #PeoplesVoteMarch pic.twitter.com/G2X65uZBw4

— Bloomberg TicToc (@tictoc) October 19, 2019 Theresa May Backs Johnson’s Plan (1:20 p.m.)

Former Prime Minister Theresa May said she will vote for Boris Johnson’s agreement with the EU, even though it sets up a border in the Irish Sea, something she pledged never to accept. There had been speculation that she might not back it for that reason.

“If you don’t want no deal, you have to vote for a deal,” she told the House of Commons. “If you want to deliver Brexit, if you want to keep faith with the British people, if you want this country to move forward, then vote for the deal today.”

Letwin Moves Amendment Despite Pressure (12:50 p.m.)

Oliver Letwin has so far shrugged off the pressure to drop his amendment (see 12:15 p.m.) and spoke to introduce it in the House of Commons. It doesn’t cause a delay but adds the insurance that the U.K. won’t leave without a deal if the government fails to get the necessary legislation through in time, he said.

The prime minister “wants to be able to say to any waverers ’it’s my deal or no-deal. Vote for the implementing legislation or we crash out’,” Letwin said. “Despite my support for the Prime Minister’s deal, I do not believe that it’s responsible to put the nation at risk by making that threat.”

If Parliament backs the amendment “we can be secure in the knowledge that the U.K. will have requested an extension tonight, which if granted can be used if and to the extent necessary, and only the extent necessary, to prevent a no-deal exit.”

Starmer Highlights Threat to Trade (12:40 p.m.)

Keir Starmer, Brexit spokesman for the opposition Labour party, told MPs that Johnson’s deal “rips up our close trading relationship with the EU,” with the price being paid in damage to the U.K. economy and job-losses.

He ran through passages of Theresa May’s old deal versus Boris Johnson’s new one, notably the removal of the phrase “the parties envisage having a trading relationship on goods as close as possible with a view to facilitating a needs of legitimate trade.”

He asked Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay: “If the aspiration of the government is to stay as close as possible to the EU on trade rules, why take the words out?” Barclay didn’t reply.

Starmer added that he doesn’t believe the prime minister’s promises on workers rights and the future relationship with the EU. “There is more than enough evidence that his word doesn’t mean anything and can’t be trusted,” he said.

Letwin Under Pressure to Drop Amendment (12:15 p.m.)

Oliver Letwin is coming under pressure from his former Tory colleagues to drop his amendment, according to three Tory MPs who have been involved in discussions with him.

While another MP could push Letwin’s amendment to a vote, if he doesn’t gun for it himself then support -- particularly among former Tories -- could melt away.

ERG Pledges Support to Brexit Legislation (12 p.m.)

Mark Francois, deputy chairman of the hard line Brexit European Research Group of Tory MPs, said the caucus agreed at its meeting on Saturday morning that its members won’t disrupt the passage of divorce legislation through Parliament this month.

The announcement is significant because some MPs have said they will back the Letwin amendment to stop the ERG from forcing a no-deal divorce from the EU on Oct. 31 by blocking the government’s Withdrawal Agreement Bill.

“We agreed that if we vote for the deal, we vote for the bill,” Francois told the House of Commons.

Shortly afterwards, independent MP Nick Boles made clear he doesn’t believe them.

Grieve Appeals for Time for Scrutiny (11:45 a.m.)

Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve, one of the MPs expelled from the Conservative Party for opposing Boris Johnson’s Brexit strategy, appealed for more time for MPs to scrutinize the deal with the EU.

The government “is taking us out at such a gallop that proper scrutiny can’t take place,” Grieve told the House of Commons. “It continues to give the impression that it wants to run a coach and horses through the rights of this house.”

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay defended the lack of an official assessment of the deal’s economic impact. “It’s difficult to model a deal that was only made on Thursday,” he said.

Labour Confirms Backing for Letwin (11:20 a.m.)

The opposition Labour Party confirmed its lawmakers will be ordered to back Oliver Letwin’s amendment, which would force to send a letter to the EU requesting a Brexit extension on Saturday night.

Labour will vote for the amendment “to stop Boris Johnson sneaking through a no-deal crash out or setting up a blackmail vote between his sell-out deal and no deal on Oct. 31,” the party said.

They argue that the amendment wouldn’t stop the U.K. leaving the EU on Oct. 31 if the necessary legislation is passed in time and simply prevents a “crash out by stealth.”

Bonmarche Blames Brexit Delay For Failure (11:10 a.m.)

Bonmarche, a U.K. womenswear retailer employing 2,900 people, went into administration and said uncertainty over Brexit delivered the knockout blow.

“The delay in Brexit has created negativities, both in the global markets towards Britain and damaged consumer sentiment,” Chief Executive Officer Helen Connolly said in a statement. “Without such a delay, it is feasible to believe that our issues would have been more manageable.”

Johnson: This Deal or No-Deal (10:55 a.m.)

Challenged by Liberal Democrat MP Luciana Berger on the fact no economic analysis on the deal has been done, Johnson said the deal had been welcomed by business lobby groups and Bank of England Governor Mark Carney.

“The choice for her today is this deal, which I think is very good for this country economically and politically, and no-deal,” Johnson said “That’s what she has to decide between.”

Johnson Pledges to Consult Parliament (10:45 a.m.)

Boris Johnson gave reassurance after reassurance to concerned former Tories. He told Greg Clarke, who was business secretary under Theresa May, that workers’ rights will always be as good as or better than they are in the EU.

In response to a question from former Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, the prime minister also said he’ll sign up to a proposal from Labour MPs Lisa Nandy and Gareth Snell that Parliament would have to agree the negotiating mandate for the next stage of Brexit talks and the future relationship with the EU should only be signed with the agreement of lawmakers.

Letwin Amendment ‘A Shame,’ Johnson Says (10:30 a.m.)

Johnson took aim at former Tory minister Oliver Letwin, whose widely-supported amendment looks set to delay a vote on the deal until next week.

While saying Letwin has the “best possible intentions”, Johnson told MPs that “this is a momentous occasion for our country and for our Parliament, and it would be a great shame if the opportunity to have a meaningful vote were to be taken away from us.”

What Happens if Letwin Amendment Passes (10:20 a.m.)

It looks likely the Letwin amendment will pass, as it has the support of opposition parties and several former Tories.

The government says if that happens, it won’t push the amended motion to a vote. At that point, the uncontested votes of opposition MPs will mean the whole motion falls. Where will that leave us?

Effectively, Johnson will be where he was at the start of the day. Without a deal passed by Parliament, he’ll be obliged by the Benn Act to write to the EU seeking a delay to Brexit until Jan. 31, 2020. Although officials have talked about finding a way around the law, the prime minister seemed to concede in Parliament that he’ll have to send the letter.

Johnson will still have a way to meet his pledge to deliver Brexit by Oct. 31 -- by getting his deal passed in Parliament before that date. But as he won’t have pushed today’s vote, he won’t know whether he has the support to do that.

Packed Commons Sees MPs Sitting in Gallery (10 a.m.)

The House of Commons is packed. Some MPs who can’t squeeze on to the green benches in the chamber are perched in seats in the gallery one level up, usually taken by staff and official visitors.

MPs are continuously barracking the opposing side. Jeremy Corbyn drew jeers from the Tories when he said “we are not prepared to sell our constituents” because the Tories accuse Labour of abandoning their supporters who voted to leave. Boris Johnson drew ironic Labour jibes when he appealed for MPs to be less adversarial.

Corbyn Warns Against Johnson’s Promises (9:55 a.m.)

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn said Johnson’s deal is worse than the one negotiated by Theresa May and the Government’s proposed timetable deprives MPs of the opportunity for properly scrutinizing it.

“We’re having a debate today on a text for which there is no economic impact assessment and no accompanying legal advice,”Corbyn said. “It’s not a good deal for our country and future generations will feel its impact.”

Corbyn also leveled a warning at Labour MPs who suggested overnight that they might back the deal after receiving assurances from Johnson over workers rights after Brexit. “This prime minister can’t be trusted and these benches will not be duped,” Corbyn said. Backing the deal would start a “race to the bottom in regulations and standards,” he added.

Johnson Says EU and U.K. Want to Move On (9:45 a.m.)

Addressing Parliament, Boris Johnson tried to reach out for support, saying he wants to involve parliament in the future stages of Brexit.

“I shall continue to listen to all honorable members throughout the debate today, to meet with anyone on any side, and to welcome the scrutiny the House will bring to bear, if, as I hope, we proceed to consider the Withdrawal Bill next week,” Johnson said.

He also effectively conceded that if his motion doesn’t pass, he’ll have to ask for an extension, telling Parliament that “it cannot change my judgement that further delay is pointless, expensive and deeply corrosive of public trust.”

The EU and the U.K. public want to move on from Brexit, Johnson said. While he had in the past urged a renegotiation with the EU, he said this is a good deal and should be embraced by all sides.

Johnson Won’t Push Vote on Deal if Letwin Wins (9:30 a.m.)

Boris Johnson won’t push his Brexit deal to a vote on Saturday if a rebel amendment that’s designed to postpone legal sign-off is passed, a U.K. official said.

Johnson needs formal Parliamentary approval for his deal by the end of Saturday to get out of a law that requires him to request a delay of Britain’s departure from the European Union.

But former Conservative minister Oliver Letwin’s amendment to Johnson’s motion would postpone legal approval until all the necessary laws have passed Parliament.

The official said the effect of the amendment would be to render the motion meaningless. The government will still push ahead with putting its Brexit legislation before Parliament on Monday, the official said.

Baker Sees Deal as ‘Tolerable Path’ (9:20 a.m.)

Leader of the ERG Steve Baker told reporters after their meeting that he believes the deal is a “tolerable path to a bright future.”

However, on their way out of the meeting, veteran Brexiteers Bill Cash and John Redwood declined to comment on how they would vote, leaving it open that they might abstain.

DUP’s Wilson Appeals to the ERG (9:15 a.m.)

The Democratic Unionist Party’s Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson also spoke to the European Research Group of hard-line Brexiteers at their meeting on Saturday morning (see 9 a.m.).

He spoke after the group’s chairman Steve Baker had recommended that members should back Johnson’s deal and urged them to oppose it. The DUP is against the agreement because it imposes different rules on Northern Ireland from the rest of the U.K.

ERG Deputy Chairman Mark Francois said after the meeting that no one in the room had said they would vote against the agreement, but members leaving the committee room refused to comment to reporters. “The ERG is not a Stalinist organisation so it will be up to everyone how they vote,” Francois said.

Brexit ‘Spartans’ Pulling Behind Johnson (9 a.m.)

Johnson has got the big scalp: Steve Baker, chairman of the pro-Brexit European Research Group and a key figure in the so-called “Spartans,” who refused to back May’s Brexit deal, has recommended that colleagues should support Johnson’s deal.

Before the last big Brexit vote, Baker made an emotional speech to the group about his frustration with the process. If he’s on board, Johnson might hope to get all the Spartans.

Tory MP Nigel Evans said that Baker had recommended at a meeting of the group on Saturday that they should back the plan.

Johnson Gains Support as MPs Gather (8:45 a.m.)

The vote is looking very close. By Bloomberg’s count, Johnson has 42 of the 61 MPs backing him that he needs, and there could easily be 20 more undeclared supporters out there.

But a couple of former Tories are refusing to say. Both former Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond and Antoinette Sandbach have refused to say what they’ll do. Hammond said he is open to backing the deal, but he is also backing the Letwin amendment.

In Westminster there’s an idea around that if the Letwin amendment passes, the government might pull the final vote. But there’s no procedure to allow it to do that.

Barclay Warns Over Dither and Delay (8:30 a.m.)

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said Oliver Letwin’s proposed amendment would cause “further delay, further dither and further uncertainty,” causing more damage to British business.

He warned that any request to extend the Oct. 31 deadline could be vetoed by another EU member. “It is not Oliver Letwin’s decision how long an extension will be, anymore than it is the U.K. Parliament’s decision,” he said.

Duncan Smith: Letwin Should ‘Stow’ His Plan (Earlier)

Former Tory leader and lead Brexiteer Iain Duncan Smith didn’t attempt to conceal his anger over Olive Letwin’s amendment, which would force Johnson to request a delay from the EU on Saturday as insurance against the U.K. accidentally crashing out without a deal on Oct. 31.

“This vote has to be clear to our partners in Europe that we’re now on a track to leave under this deal,” Duncan Smith told the BBC, warning that the amendment would extend uncertainty. “I wish Oliver Letwin would just stow this now.”

Dodds Says DUP May Back Insurance Amendment (Earlier)

Nigel Dodds, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party’s 10 MPs in Westminster, said the party will examine the Letwin amendment and decide whether to back it later on Saturday.

“It’s a very interesting amendment,” Dodds told BBC Radio. “It does have the merit of pointing out that this would withhold the approval of the Commons from the government’s plan.”

He said the party, which will vote against Johnson’s deal, hasn’t yet made a final decision on the Letwin amendment

First Published: Sat, October 19 2019. 20:03 IST
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