Brexit Set for Delay After Johnson Loses Key Vote in ParliamentOctober 22, 2019
Boris Johnson’s defining mission to take the U.K. out of the European Union in nine days’ time was derailed as members of Parliament dramatically blocked his plan to rush the Brexit deal into law.
That left Brexit in limbo, with the EU now required to decide how long a delay — if any — to offer. The pound fell.
But it wasn’t all bad news for the British leader. Some 15 minutes earlier, he had made history by winning a vote to endorse the broad principles of his Brexit agreement — the first time any divorce accord has won the backing of the House of Commons.
Taken together, the two votes put the U.K.’s withdrawal from the EU on course to be postponed again, potentially allowing time for an election to be held. The results also suggest that the chances of a no-deal Brexit are diminishing, now that Parliament has backed Johnson’s agreement in principle.
After the votes, the prime minister’s office declined to rule out agreeing to a short delay beyond the Oct. 31 deadline and Johnson said: “One way or another, we will leave the EU with this deal, to which this House has just given its assent.”
The House of Commons voted 322 to 308 against Johnson’s proposed fast-track timetable for the Withdrawal Agreement Bill — the crucial piece of law to implement the deal he struck in Brussels last week.
The defeat makes it now virtually impossible for Johnson to get his hard-won accord ratified in time to meet his Oct. 31 deadline for leaving, his defining goal since he took over as prime minister from Theresa May in July.
Speaking afterward, Johnson said his draft Brexit law will now be paused.
“Let me be clear: our policy remains that we should not delay, that we should leave the EU on Oct. 31 and that is what I will say to the EU and I will report back to the House,” Johnson told the Commons. He promised to step up contingency planning for a no-deal Brexit, and to consult with EU leaders and tell them he doesn’t want another delay.
European Council President Donald Tusk said the bloc will never choose to push Britain out with no deal. “I am consulting EU leaders on how to respond to the British request for an Art. 50 extension,” Tusk tweeted on Tuesday. “We should be ready for every scenario. But I made clear to PM @BorisJohnson: a no-deal #Brexit will never be our decision.”
Earlier, MPs had voted to endorse the broad thrust of Johnson’s deal by 329 votes to 299, a margin that relied on the votes of 19 members of the main opposition Labour Party. But they refused to be rushed into signing it into law.
Johnson’s opponents argued that they needed more time to scrutinize the historic exit deal than the three days of debate he had proposed for the bill to pass all its stages in the Commons.
Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn offered to work with Johnson to come up with a better timetable to help Parliament improve the deal.
Speaking before voting began, Johnson said if Parliament and the EU imposed a delay to the end of Jan. 31 — which is now possible — he would have little option but to ditch the bill entirely and press for a snap general election, potentially before Christmas.
Johnson told MPs that if the motion proposing a fast-track timetable is voted down, “we will have to go forward to a general election.” That result of that election contest is likely to be impossible to predict in such a volatile political atmosphere.
— With assistance by Greg Ritchie
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