19 October 2019 22:38
MPs vote to hold up approval of EU deal but PM says he 'will not negotiate on date' Boris Johnson was warned on Saturday that he risks a fresh challenge in the courts after he reacted to a humiliating Commons defeat over Brexit by calling on EU leaders to reject any extension of Britain's membership of the European Union. After MPs voted by 322 to 306 to withhold approval of his EU exit deal, the prime minister was obliged to write to Brussels by 11pm on Saturday to request an extension until 31 January 2020, in order to comply with the law under the terms of the Benn act. Downing Street indicated that Johnson would write one letter to comply with the Benn act, requesting an extension, but also "an additional letter" making clear that delay is not necessary as he still believes the Brexit legislation will pass by the current 31 October deadline for leaving. A former Tory cabinet minister said Johnson was clearly behaving in a way that was "against the spirit of the Benn act", which required him to have asked for an extension by 11pm on Saturday if no Brexit deal had been approved by parliament by then, or parliament had not given its backing to a no-deal outcome. Earlier on Saturday, in a day of high parliamentary drama, MPs withheld approval for Johnson's new Brexit deal until legislation on the UK's withdrawal has been debated and passed through parliament.
The result was announced as an estimated one million people marched on Parliament Square to demand a second referendum as a way to break the three-year Brexit deadlock. Supporters of a second referendum now plan to table an amendment to the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, which will have its second reading in the Commons on Tuesday, to make approval of any deal conditional on another public vote. Play Video 2:06 MPs hit back after PM says he will not ask for Brexit delay – video Immediately after the vote Johnson said he was "not daunted or dismayed" by the defeat but would push on with the bill in order "get Brexit done" by 31 October. Pre-empting questions about whether he would comply with the Benn act Johnson chose his words carefully saying: "I will not negotiate a delay with the EU, and neither does the law compel me to do so." The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, told the Commons: "The prime minister must now comply with the law. The vote was swung by a decision by the 10 DUP MPs, who have propped up the Tory administration since the 2017 general election, to vote for the amendment demanding approval of his deal be withheld.
MPs opposed to the Johnson deal and those in favour of a second referendum are expected to table numerous amendments, meaning it may not pass by 31 October. After spelling out the reasons why his party rejected the Johnson deal, the party's Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson told MPs that the DUP would do everything it could during the passage of the withdrawal agreement bill to protect Northern Irish interests while the party leader at Westminster Nigel Dodds said it would scrutinise all amendments very closely. Johnson had described his Brexit plan, approved on Thursday by EU leaders, as "a great prospect and a great deal" and urged MPs to vote for it. London (CNN) UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson suffered another bruising setback on Saturday as UK lawmakers withheld approval of his Brexit deal, just as he appeared on the brink of an extraordinary political triumph. In a day of intense political drama in London, MPs voted to delay ratification of the deal until Parliament has passed the complex set of legislation required to enact it. Johnson was forced to ask the European Union for an extension to the Brexit process until the end of January, an outcome he has repeatedly pledged to avoid since he became Prime Minister in July. To comply with a law passed by lawmakers opposed to a no-deal Brexit, he sent an unsigned letter to the EU Council President requesting the delay, but, according to a government source, also sent another letter that made plain the government's position that it did not wish the request to be granted. "I will not negotiate a delay with the EU, and neither does the law compel me to do so," Johnson told lawmakers in the House of Commons. Boris Johnson requested a Brexit extension from EU leaders, and also asked them to turn it down "The Prime Minister must now comply with the law," he said. Government aides were furious at the result of the vote in Parliament, as it denied Johnson the chance to declare a Brexit victory on Saturday. After two days of arm-twisting since Johnson returned with a new deal from Brussels on Thursday, Downing Street believed it had secured the numbers required to pass it, albeit by a razor-thin margin. Johnson's nemesis was former Conservative government minister Oliver Letwin, who proposed the amendment that delayed Parliament's approval. He said it was an "insurance policy" to ensure the UK would not "crash out" of the European Union without a deal on October 31. Under legislation known as the Benn Act, designed to avoid a no-deal Brexit, the UK government was required to request an extension to the Brexit process until January 31, if a deal was was not ratified by the end of Saturday. But Letwin and his allies were concerned that a no-deal Brexit could still happen at the end of October if, by then, lawmakers had failed to pass the complex set of legislation required to enact the departure deal. Letwin said his amendment was an "insurance policy" designed to avoid an accidental no-deal. In the end, the Letwin amendment passed by 322 votes to 306. In a twist of political fate, the outcome was decided by the 10 MPs of the Democratic Unionist Party, the Northern Ireland group that nominally props up Johnson's minority government in the House of Commons. Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street to head for the House of Commons on Saturday. Its MPs were particularly furious that Johnson had cast them aside, traveling to Brussels on Thursday to sign his Brexit deal with EU leaders without securing their support. "We are cut off from the country to which we belong," said Sammy Wilson, the DUP's Brexit spokesman, in an impassioned speech in the House of Commons. Prime Minister Boris Johnson failed to persuade lawmakers to back his plans. In the first weekend sitting of Parliament for 37 years, Johnson had implored MPs from all sides of the House of Commons to back his Brexit deal and support a "shared sense of destiny." "If you want to deliver Brexit, if you want to keep faith with the British people, if you want the country to move forward, then vote for the deal today," she said. "Alas, the opportunity to have a meaningful vote has effectively been passed up," an angry Johnson told lawmakers after the Letwin amendment was passed. But Johnson said the government would press on with its plans to put legislation to enact the withdrawal agreement before Parliament next week. Speaking to political journalists shortly after the vote, Johnson's spokesperson repeatedly refused to say whether Johnson would send the required letter to the EU, saying only that "governments comply with the law." Meanwhile Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the House of Commons, said the government would bring forward another vote on Johnson's Brexit deal on Monday. That convention scuppered ex-Prime Minister May's plans to hold repeated votes on her withdrawal deal. But it was not clear whether Saturday's proceedings in Parliament counted as a vote on Johnson's deal, because it was amended by the Letwin measure. Crowds march through central London on Saturday to demand a People's Vote on the government's new Brexit deal. While lawmakers were debating and voting in Parliament, up to 1 million protesters marched through central London to call for a second Brexit referendum, according to protest organizers.