Once the Commons rejected Boris Johnson‘s timetable to pass the deal, the Prime Minister said he would ‘pause’ the legislation while the EU decides whether to offer an extension – and for how long.
It is thought EU leaders will make a decision by Monday. Theoretically, if they were to refuse, Britain could still leave without a deal next Thursday, on October 31.
However, in the wake of the vote last night, Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, said he would recommend an extension to EU leaders. He had said earlier in the day that a ‘No Deal’ Brexit would never be the EU’s choice.
Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, said he would recommend an extension to EU leaders. He had said earlier in the day that a ‘No Deal’ Brexit would never be the EU’s choice
According to EU sources, member states may now grant a so-called flextension of three months until January 31, meaning the delay could come to an end early if the Commons has ratified the deal. However, three months could also allow time for a general election.
Mr Johnson was mandated by Parliament to formally request an extension until January 31 at the weekend by the Benn Act, which came into effect on Saturday night when MPs failed to pass a deal.
He ended up sending two letters – the one that he was forced to by the legislation, and another saying he believed a delay would be a mistake. In a pointed reference to that January 31 date, an EU Commission spokesman said after last night’s vote: ‘The European Commission takes note of tonight’s result and expects the UK government to inform us about the next steps.
‘Donald Tusk is consulting leaders on the UK’s request for an extension until January 31, 2020.’ Last night Mr Tusk said he would recommend to the EU’s 27 remaining leaders that they approve the UK’s request for an extension – under a ‘written procedure’.
A ‘written procedure’ means EU leaders – who have to agree a delay unanimously – will make their choice remotely and not at a summit next week.
The European Parliament’s Brexit negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, reacted to the vote last night by suggesting an extension would be granted, but also having a dig at Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage.
He tweeted: ‘You’re all thinking: another extension. I am thinking: another three weeks listening to Farage.’
According to EU sources, any extension will likely involve the option of an early cut-off point.
One EU source said: ‘I think any extension can be a flextension.’ This could throw a lifeline to Mr Johnson because it would allow him to claim that the UK can still leave the EU only a few days or weeks after the October 31 deadline, which he pledged the UK would leave by ‘do or die’.
The flextension would allow Britain to leave in November, December or early January – however long it takes the deal to be passed by MPs, sources confirmed.
However, the bloc is still waiting to hear what Mr Johnson plans to do next. Last night Mr Tusk continued to call round EU leaders to ask their feelings on an extension.
Immediately after the vote Irish premier Leo Varadkar tweeted: ‘It’s welcome that the House of Commons voted by a clear majority in favour of legislation needed to enact the Withdrawal Agreement.
‘We will now await further developments from London and Brussels about next steps.’
Donald Tusk’s tweet suggests that he will recommend accepting the proposed delay set out by the UK in a letter submitted to the bloc at the weekend which asked for Brexit to be pushed back to January 31, 2020 (pictured: in Strasbourg on Tuesday)
Donald Tusk tweeted this evening that he would recommend to European leaders to grant the UK a Brexit delay in order to avopid a No Deal split
MPs have thrown the fate of Britain’s ability to leave with a deal into the hands of EU leaders, who could refuse to grant an extension. Countries such as France have suggested they could veto another delay.
Yesterday, before the Commons votes, French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he saw ‘no justification at this stage’ for an additional delay.
However, member state diplomats say an extension will almost certainly be granted because they do not want to be blamed for No Deal, which could cripple Ireland.
Speaking in the European Parliament in Strasbourg yesterday, Mr Tusk told MEPs he would respond to the UK’s request for a third delay beyond October 31 ‘in the coming days’, but that a No Deal will ‘never be our decision’ – effectively confirming another extension.
Following a three-hour debate in which the majority of MEPs said they believed Britain should be granted an extension, Mr Tusk added: ‘Through this you show common sense and the sense of dignity. After what I have heard in this chamber, I have no doubt that we should treat the British request for extension in all seriousness.’
The advantage of a flextension would be that it would allow for a ‘technical’ extension of just a few days or weeks if Mr Johnson decides to continue with getting the legislation through Parliament.
Yesterday EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said he regretted the amount of time devoted to Brexit during his five-year presidency.
He said: ‘It’s been a waste of time and a waste of energy.’
Boris Johnson will push for a general election if the EU grants another Brexit delay because it is ‘the only way the country can move on’ after MPs REJECTED the Prime Minister’s three-day timetable
Boris Johnson will push for a general election if the EU follows Donald Tusk’s advice to grant another Brexit delay, a No. 10 source revealed last night after MPs rejected the Prime Minister’s three-day timetable for his Brexit bill.
MPs handed the fate of Brexit back to the EU after they first supported Mr Johnson’s deal but then voted against his plan to crash it through the House of Commons before the weekend.
With the PM forced to pause his efforts, Mr Tusk announced that he would urge the 27 EU member states to give Britain more time, expected to run to January 31.
In which case, a No. 10 source confirmed Mr Johnson would press for the ballot option, saying: ‘Parliament and Corbyn have repeatedly voted for delay. On Saturday Parliament asked for a delay until January and today Parliament blew its last chance. If Parliament’s delay is agreed by Brussels, then the only way the country can move on is with an election. This Parliament is broken.’
Boris Johnson saw his Brexit deal given historic initial approval by MPs – but they also torpedoed his plan to rush through the legislation implementing the plan
Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Parliament after winning a majority for his Brexit deal but losing the crucial program motion
It comes amid a report that Mr Corbyn last week urged a group of his MPs they ‘cannot afford to turn down another election request,’ an insider told The Sun.
The ball is now in the EU’s court and the scheduled debate on the Brexit Withdrawal Bill will be scrapped for Wednesday afternoon, though time is still allotted for the usual Prime Minister’s Questions.
Mr Tusk tweeted: ‘Following PM Boris Johnson’s decision to pause the process of ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement, and in order to avoid a no-deal Brexit, I will recommend the EU27 accept the UK request for an extension. For this I will propose a written procedure.’
Mr Tusk’s tweet suggested that he will recommend accepting the proposed delay set out by the UK in a letter submitted to the bloc at the weekend which asked for Brexit to be pushed back to the end of January.
The PM was forced to send that letter under the terms of the anti-No Deal Benn Act, passed by rebel MPs, after he failed to secure MPs’ backing for his deal on Saturday. Mr Johnson refused to sign that letter and made clear in a separate letter to Mr Tusk that he opposed any extension.
But the EU has taken Saturday’s request seriously and as a result Mr Johnson now faces the prospect of having a delay imposed on him against his wishes with European leaders almost certain to back Mr Tusk’s recommendation to avoid a No Deal split.
If the EU does offer a three month delay it will almost certainly put the UK on course for a general election before Christmas because opposition leaders have previously told Mr Johnson that they will back a snap poll once a No Deal split on Halloween has been ruled out.
The last line of Mr Tusk’s tweet suggests he believes there will not need to be an emergency EU summit to agree an extension and that European leaders will be able to agree to terms simply by writing letters.
Mr Tusk’s decision to recommend a Brexit delay comes after Mr Johnson recorded an historic triumph as the Commons approved his divorce deal in principle by 329 votes to 299 following hours of tense debate.
But Mr Johnson then suffered a huge setback as MPs effectively blocked him from keeping his ‘do or die’ vow to cut ties with the EU by Halloween as the Commons torpedoed a proposed 72-hour timetable for passing crucial Brexit legislation by 322 to 308.
After the results were declared, Mr Johnson hailed the historic breakthrough, saying he was ‘joyful’ that MPs had finally agreed on a Brexit blueprint after rejecting Theresa May’s on three separate occasions.
Victory in the ‘second reading’ means the package has now cleared its first hurdle towards becoming law.
The margin of victory on the first vote was far greater than many people expected and Mr Johnson was urged to press ahead with the legislation.
But the defeat that followed on the so-called ‘programme motion’ meant that the PM’s plan to get the deal through the Commons this week, a timetable which would have kept his ‘do or die’ vow alive, was left in tatters.
He then insisted he needed to ‘pause’ the passage of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill which would enshrine his deal in law and actually make Brexit happen on the grounds he needed to see how Brussels would react to the results.
Mr Johnson said in the immediate aftermath of the second vote result being announced: ‘I must express my disappointment that the House has again voted for delay rather than a timetable that would have guaranteed that the UK would have been in a position to leave the EU on October 31 with a deal.
‘And we now face further uncertainty and the EU must now make up their minds over how to answer parliament’s request for a delay…
‘I will speak to EU member states about their intentions until they have reached a decision.
‘Until we have reached a decision I am afraid we will pause this legislation. Let me be clear. Our policy remains that we should not delay, that we should leave the EU on October 31 and that is what I will say to the EU and I will report back to the House.
‘One way or another we will leave the EU with this deal to which this House has just given its assent and I thank members across the house for that hard won agreement.’
Mr Tusk tweeted his response less than two hours after the PM made his remarks as he appeared to dismiss Mr Johnson’s renewed calls for the EU not to grant a delay.
Before the outcome of the divisions were declared, Mr Johnson had tried to heap pressure on wavering MPs by threatening to pull the legislation if the timetable was voted down.
However, he struck a significantly more emollient tone after the results.
Mr Tusk’s tweet suggests he will propose offering an extension to the end of January and under the terms of the Benn Act the PM will be legally obliged to accept the delay.
However, if the bloc offered a short extension of weeks – or even days – it would give Mr Johnson huge leverage to secure support from Tory rebels and Labour MPs who are terrified of No Deal to support his agreement.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar responded to the votes in the Commons by tweeting: ‘It’s welcome that the House of Commons voted by a clear majority in favour of legislation needed to enact Withdrawal Agreement.
‘We will now await further developments from London and Brussels about next steps including timetable for the legislation and the need for an extension.’
European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva tweeted: ‘@EU_Commission takes note of tonight’s result and expects the U.K. government to inform us about the next steps. @eucopresident is consulting leaders on the UK’s request for an extension until 31 January 2020.’
Mr Tusk had earlier today suggested that the EU would reject Mr Johnson’s plea not to offer a Brexit delay.
The European Council president made clear the bloc would always act to avoid the UK crashing out, telling the European Parliament: ‘A No Deal Brexit will never be our decision.’
Ministers had been growing increasingly optimistic through the day that the numbers were in place to win the first big vote on the legislation tonight, known as the second reading.
But there was deepening gloom about the programme motion throughout the day.
Mr Johnson wanted to get all of the Commons stages of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill completed by close of play Thursday.
But critically for Mr Johnson, former Tory rebels including Rory Stewart and Ken Clarke indicated they intended to go against the government.
Remainer MPs have been hoping that they drag their heels on Brexit the EU would agree to delay the date for months so they can continue the fight for a second referendum.
The division list showed 19 Labour MPs voted for the Bill at second reading. They were joined by 285 Conservatives – including all 28 of the hardline ‘Spartans’ who never backed Mrs May’s deal – and 25 Independents.
But just five Labour MPs rebelled to support the programme motion, along with 18 independents as the PM fell short.
After the numbers were declared, Father of the House Mr Clarke urged Mr Johnson to press home his advantage rather than pausing the Bill.
‘I can’t quite see the logic of pausing progress on the Bill when the whole House is expecting the next two days to be spent on it,’ he said.
‘It would enable us to see how quickly the House is actually proceeding, what sort of time is being looked for, it may enable then, if people start filibustering, which I hope they won’t, for the Government to get a majority for a timetable motion if it came back which was a modest adjustment to the one he had, because I think three or four days more would certainly do it.’
Labour MP Gareth Snell, who backed the Bill, also urged the government to keep going.
‘The injury inflicted this evening was a mere flesh wound, and if the Leader of the House was willing to bring forward a motion tomorrow with a more considered timetable for committee stage, it would pass this House,’ he said.
The margin in the vote was significantly larger than had been expected. Speaker John Bercow (right) was in charge of proceedings tonight
‘Some of us voted for second reading precisely so we could get on to the next stage for more scrutiny, and didn’t support the programme motion because we did not believe there was sufficient time.’
Another supportive Labour MP, Ruth Smeeth, said: ‘All we’re asking for is the opportunity to ensure that the deal which was only presented to us last night works for our constituents and my local economy – we need slightly more time.’
Jeremy Corbyn, who whipped Labour MPs to oppose the government on both votes tonight, said the House had ‘refused to be bounced into debating a hugely significant piece of legislation in just two days with barely any notice and analysis of the economic impact of this Bill’.
‘Work with us, all of us to agree a reasonable timetable, and I suspect this House will vote to debate, scrutinise and, I hope, commend the detail of this Bill. That would be the sensible way forward, and that is the offer I make on behalf of the opposition tonight,’ he said.
In a gambit designed to maximise support for the programme motion earlier, Mr Johnson said: ‘I will in no way allow months more of this.
‘If parliament refuses to allow Brexit to happen and instead gets its way and decides to delay everything until January or possibly longer, in no circumstances can the government continue with this.
PM recorded a historic victory by 329 to 299 as MPs gave his Withdrawal Agreement Bill a second reading, but MPs then thwarted the PM’s efforts to rush the laws through Commons in just 72 hours by 322 to 308 (pictured: Mr Johnson folds his arms during tonight’s debate)
‘With great regret I must say the Bill will have to be pulled and we will have to go forward to a general election, in no circumstances can the government continue with this.
‘I will argue at that election let’s get Brexit done and the leader of the opposition will make his case to spend 2020 having two referendums: one on Brexit and one Scotland. The people will decide.’
Mr Corbyn completely ignored the issue of an election in his response to the PM. Mr Johnson would need his cooperation to force a snap poll, and Labour has twice blocked such a move, but Mr Corbyn has committed to backing one if Brexit is delayed.
In another bewildering day as politicians desperately wrestled for control of the country’s destiny:
- Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage warned Mr Johnson’s deal will turn the UK into a ‘colony’ of the EU and urged a delay so that an election can be held;
- Jean-Claude Juncker moaned that his time as EU commission president had been dominated by Brexit, branding it a ‘waste of time and energy’;
- Sinn Fein gloated that the Brexit turmoil is likely to spark a referendum on unifying the island of Ireland within five years;
- A YouGov poll found the Tories are 15 points ahead of Labour, underlining fears among Mr Corbyn’s MPs that an election will be a disaster;
Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg upped the stakes earlier by warning that ‘a vote against the programme motion is a vote against Brexit’,
The tough talk looked to backfire with some MPs. Former Tory MP Ed Vaizey responded on Twitter: ‘Oh dear. Any more ludicrous tweets like this and I may change my mind and vote against the programme motion.’
Another ex-Conservative MP, Nick Boles dismissed Mr Johnson’s ‘bluff’ on axing the Bill. ‘No 10 is bluffing, as usual. There is no way that after winning a famous victory on 2nd reading the PM is going to pull the bill just because MPs reject the programme motion,’ he tweeted. ‘He will bring forward a revised motion giving us a few more days and blame Parliament for any extension.’
The simplest way of staging an early election is to pass a motion with two-thirds support in the Commons. Mr Johnson has failed twice to reach the mark.
But Mr Corbyn has previously promised to support an early poll if there is an extension agreed with the EU to remove the immediate threat of No Deal.
Even if Mr Johnson brings back the legislation, the government is desperately struggling to fend off amendments that would keep the UK in the EU’s customs union or force a referendum
In a fresh threat this morning, Mr Boles has tabled a change that would prolong the transition period by two years unless Parliament gives explicit approval for it to end in 2021.
That could prove unacceptable to Eurosceptics and splinter the fragile coalition Mr Johnson has created for his deal.
During the debate, Cabinet minister Robert Buckland tried to win over critics by suggesting there will be a concession on the issue.
Earlier, Mr Johnson made a rallying cry to get the Brexit deal over the line, telling MPs: ‘For three-and-a-half years this Parliament has been caught in a deadlock of its own making, and the truth is that all of us bear a measure of responsibility for that outcome.
‘And yet by the same token, we all bear a share of responsibility, we all have the same opportunity now.
Jeremy Corbyn ignored the threat of a general election as he responded to the PM in the Commons debate today
‘The escape route is visible, the prize is visible before us, a new beginning with our friends and partners, a new beginning for a global, self-confident, outward-looking country that can do free trade deals around the world as one whole entire United Kingdom.
‘The deal is here on the table, the legislation to deliver it is here before us.
‘A clear majority in the country is now imploring us to get Brexit done in this House of Commons, and I say to this House, let us therefore do it, and let us do it now and tonight.’
Mr Johnson was boosted by the endorsement of his brother Jo, a Remain campaigner who quit the Cabinet last month.
He said he hoped the Bill would secure Royal Assent ‘sooner rather than later’.
And Oliver Letwin, who sparked fury by tabling a referendum at the weekend that deprived Mr Johnson of a clean vote on his plan, said: ‘Getting seriously worried that HMG will pull Bill if Programme Motion is defeated.
‘Surely best for all of us who regard this deal as the least of the evils to vote for the Programme Motion, whatever we really think of it.’
The Fixed-Term Parliaments Act prevents the Prime Minister from choosing when to call an election.
Instead, he must have the support of two-thirds of MPs or lose a formal vote of no-confidence. Labour has refused to hold a vote of confidence, and it abstained in a vote on an early election.
Mr Corbyn has said he is keen for an election but many Labour MPs are opposed. So ministers are looking at other ways to force an early poll.
There have been suggestions that a minor parties could be invited to hold a vote of confidence, and Tory MPs would abstain. However, it is though the Speaker will only allow a confidence motion tabled by the official Opposition.
A Bill could be introduced to set aside the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, but there would be a slew of amendments that could render it impossible to pass.
Another option would be for the Government could submit a vote for an election every day until Labour ‘gives in’.
But in his response, Mr Corbyn merely moaned about the deal and did not address the PM’s call for an election.
The WAB runs to 110 pages and is accompanied by 124 pages of explanatory notes
‘We warned on Saturday that if the House passes the Government’s deal, it’d be a disaster for our country,’ he said.
‘Now, as we look through the details of the Bill, we see just how right we were.
‘Page after page of what amounts to nothing less than a charter for deregulation and a race to the bottom.
‘A deal and a Bill that fails to protect our rights and our natural world, fails to protect jobs and the economy, fails to protect every region and every nation in the United Kingdom.
‘This Bill confirms Northern Ireland is really in the customs union of the EU and goods will be subjected to tariffs.’
Shadow chancellor and Labour MP John McDonnell tweeted: ‘Johnson threatening a general election because Parliament might want a few more days to scrutinise his Withdrawal Bill. Pathetic. What has he got to hide?’
Labour MPs representing Leave constituencies have indicated they will support the Withdrawal Agreement Bill at second reading.
Wigan MP Lisa Nandy and Ashfield MP Gloria De Piero said they would support the Bill at second reading in order to be able to amend it at committee stage.
Intervening during the Labour leader’s speech, Ms Nandy said: ‘For many people back home in towns like Wigan this is an article of faith in the Labour Party.’
Ms De Piero added: ‘I am also minded to vote in favour of a second reading, not because I support that deal but because I don’t. And I want to improve the deal so it reflects the manifesto that I stood on to respect the result of that referendum.’
No10 strategist Dominic Cummings appeared in high spirits as he arrived for work today
Responding to Ms De Piero, Mr Corbyn said: ‘I hope that she will understand why I believe this Bill should not be given a second reading, but I’m also sure she will agree with me that to get this Bill to debate less than 17 hours after it was published is a totally unreasonable way of treating Parliament and I hope she will also join in the lobby this evening in opposing the programme motion on this particular Bill.’
Overnight Mr Johnson appealed to MPs to back his deal ‘so that we can leave without disruption and provide a framework for a new relationship based on free trade and friendly co-operation’.
The PM said: ‘I hope Parliament votes to take back control for itself and the British people and the country can start to focus on the cost of living, the NHS, and conserving our environment.
‘The public doesn’t want any more delays, neither do other European leaders and neither do I. Let’s get Brexit done on October 31 and move on.’
Opening a new front, Mr Boles tweeted that he had tabled an amendment ‘to require the government by default to seek an extension of the transition to Dec 2022 unless MPs pass a resolution to the contrary’.
‘We must stop No Deal Brexit in Dec 2020,’ he added.