MPs finally backed Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal last night — then wrecked it within minutes by rejecting his three-day timetable to push it through Parliament.
The defeat, triggered when nine former Tories voted against the Government, ends the PM’s hope of an October 31 exit.
He immediately announced he will put the Withdrawal Agreement Bill on hold while the EU decides how to answer Parliament’s plea for an extension.
But the defiant PM said: “One way or another we will leave the EU with this deal.”
Brussels last night began deliberations on a third extension request, this time until January 31.
The MPs’ dithering, reminiscent of Little Britain’s “yeah but no but” character Vicky Pollard, came after they passed the Bill’s second reading by 329 to 299.
It was a landmark victory for Mr Johnson — but the Commons then voted down his timetable to pass the Bill swiftly, by 322 votes to 308.
MPs insisted they needed more than three days to scrutinise the 110-page Bill. The nine Tory rebels, now independent after being kicked out for a previous revolt, voted against.
Only five pro-Brexit Labour rebels switched sides. The dramatic double vote came as:
- EU diplomats said that if Mr Johnson wants a shorter extension than three months he will have to write to European Council president Donald Tusk;
- The rebel Tories offered to back the timetable if Boris gave Parliament the power to dictate the terms of the future trade deal with the EU. He refused;
- Pro-Brexit Labour MPs urged leader Jeremy Corbyn not to shoot down the deal so they could try to improve it instead.
Mr Johnson last night told EU chiefs he will force a snap general election if a new Brexit delay stretches as long as three months.
With next week’s October 31 Brexit deadline in disarray, the PM immediately hit the phones to Europe’s leaders.
Brussels bosses began considering the length of the new delay — which Parliament asked to run until January 31.
Defiant Mr Johnson insisted he would repeat his firm line that “our policy remains that we should not delay, that we should leave the EU on October 31st”.
But No10 would not rule out the PM reluctantly accepting a far shorter delay of a few weeks to continue pushing his landmark Withdrawal Agreement Bill through Parliament.
A “flex-tension” that would see the EU end Britain’s membership as soon as the bill was passed by Parliament was last night seen as EU leaders’ most likely decision.
Mr Johnson told MPs last night that he would accelerate the Government’s no deal preparations as “the only responsible course” in case the EU decided on no delay at all.
Earlier, as he opened an emotionally charged Commons debate on the bill, Mr Johnson threw down the gauntlet on what he would do if his all- important three-day timetable to pass it was torpedoed.
He told MPs he would “in no way allow months more of this”.
He said: “If Parliament refuses to allow Brexit to happen and instead gets its way and decides to delay everything until January, with great regret I must say the bill will have to be pulled and we will have to go forward to a general election.”
He added: “We have chewed over this question again and again; our constituents will not be fooled by any further delay — they will not understand why that is necessary.
“At that election I will argue ‘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 on Scotland — and the people will decide.”
Downing Street was bullish last night over the PM’s chances of winning a snap poll.
A No10 source said: “The PM’s deal is a great electoral platform to campaign on.”
But even some Tory MPs thought it was just a giant bluff as the PM played a high-stakes game of brinkmanship with rebel Conservatives.
One loyal backbencher sceptical about No10’s ability to force a snap election said: “How? He has tried twice and Labour MPs are saying they still won’t vote for one before the spring.”
We have chewed over this question again and again; our constituents will not be fooled by any further delay.
After the result of the second vote was announced, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn issued an offer to work with the PM to draw up a new timetable for the bill. He declared: “The house has refused to be bounced.”
EU diplomats told The Sun that if Mr Johnson wanted a shorter extension he would have to write to EU Council president Donald Tusk to ask for it.
But within two hours of the PM’s setback, Mr Tusk said he would recommend the three-month-long delay requested by Parliament.
He tweeted: “Following PM @BorisJohnson’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.”
Sources in Brussels insisted the bloc would not get dragged into UK politics by being seen to either encourage or block another General Election.
They said they continued to treat the January 31 date set out in the extension letter demanded by Parliament as the Government’s formal request for a delay.
One EU diplomat said: “We will not be dragged into the Westminster morass.”
Only nine of the 21 suspended Tory rebels ended up rebelling again. Most finally fell in line and backed Mr Johnson.
That included Sir Oliver Letwin, who had masterminded Saturday’s revolt which forced the PM to ask for a fresh Brexit delay as an insurance mechanism on no deal.
The hero Labour and Independent MPs who voted for Boris’ deal at second reading:
- Sir Kevin Barron
- Sarah Champion
- Rosie Cooper
- Jon Cruddas
- Gloria De Piero
- Jim Fitzpatrick
- Caroline Flint
- Mike Hill
- Dan Jarvis
- Emma Lewell-Buck
- John Mann
- Grahame Morris
- Lisa Nandy
- Melanie Onn
- Stephanie Peacock
- Jo Platt
- Ruth Smeeth
- Laura Smith
- Gareth Snell
Former Labour and now independents who voted for Boris’ deal:
- John Woodcock
- Ivan Lewis
- Kelvin Hopkins
- Frank Field
- Ian Austin
Former Lib Dem now Independent:Stephen Lloyd
The Tory grandee tweeted: “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.”
Nineteen pro-Brexit Labour MPs mounted a revolt to back the bill’s second reading.
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They warned that voters would lose faith with Labour and Parliament if MPs thwarted a deal yet again.
What’s in the Bill which could cause issues for Boris?
DETAILS buried in the 110-page bill document are riddled with potential hurdles for the Government.
- Restrictions on a trade deal: The Bill restricts ministers to negotiating a future partnership with the EU based strictly on the Political Declaration. And it must also secure the approval of its negotiating mandate from MPs before even starting talks with Brussels.
No more extensions: The bill would also prevent MPs from forcing the Government seeking an extension to the transition period when it ends in December 2020, even if there’s no trade deal in place. The draft law would only grant MPs a vote if the Government opted to seek an extension, which can be up to two years. Most MPs don’t want to leave with No Deal at the end of a transition period – but Eurosceptics want to keep the option open.
No workers’ rights guarantee: The Government has inserted its commitments on mirroring EU rights into the WAB, which was previously only in the non-legally-binding Political Declaration. But it still leaves flexibility for ministers to depart from EU workers rights laws by winning a vote in Parliament. Labour MPs have demanded this as a price for their support.
- Red tape for Northern Ireland: British firms selling into Northern Ireland will be hit by red tape and higher costs under the Brexit deal, the bill revealed. British firms will have to fill out at least two customs forms. This will lead to “additional administrative costs” which could cost around £15 to £56 per customs declaration.
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