Pro-EU UK MPs look to force Brexit extension
Today’s vote on the UK’s Brexit deal could be bypassed if a rebel amendment passes to force the final decision to be made next week and probably forcing a three-month extension.
Expelled Conservative MP Oliver Letwin has tabled a motion which would mean Saturday’s vote did not legally count as approval of the Withdrawal Agreement.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson would, therefore, miss the deadline for getting a deal signed off under legislation preventing a no-deal Brexit. The far-right populist would then under the Benn Act have to ask the rest of the European Union for a three-month extension from October 31.
Parliament is sitting on a Saturday for the first time since 1982’s Falklands War to vote on Johnson’s Brexit agreement.
His former Democratic Unionist Party allies and the opposition plan to vote against it, meaning the result is too close to call.
At least nine Labour MPs are expected to rebel and back the populist government and it is unsure how the 21 Conservative MPs sacked from the party last month will vote.
Brexist Tory MPs who voted against Theresa May’s agreement on all three times it was put to the Commons have said they will support Johnson’s deal.
Hardline Brexist Mark Francois, the deputy chairman of the anti-EU European Research Group, says he will vote for it.
Sacked Conservative Sir Nicholas Soames has said he will vote for the deal along with most of the other 20.
But Letwin said his “simple” amendment would only eliminate the risk of a no-deal divorce taking place on Halloween.
The amendment is likely to be supported by Labour, the Lib Dems, SNP and other opposition parties, meaning it has a good chance of success. It says the Commons “withholds approval unless and until implementing legislation is passed”.
That means that the vote tabled by Johnson would no longer legally be a “meaningful vote” approving the Withdrawal Agreement. The Benn Act says today is the deadline for passing a deal and instructs Johnson to ask for an extension.
The “implementing legislation” mentioned in the Letwin amendment would take the form of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, likely to be tabled by the government on Monday. If that bill passes, Johnson would have the right to withdraw the extension request so Britain could leave on October 31.
Letwin said: “The one issue that concerns me is to keep the Benn Act extension in place as an insurance policy until the implementing legislation is passed by both houses of Parliament and the UK’s withdrawal is ratified.
“The purpose of my amendment is, accordingly, to remove from the government’s motion the bits that would have had the legal effect of satisfying the Benn Act conditions and would, therefore, have removed the need for the PM to seek an extension.
“Nothing in my amendment or in the Benn Act itself in any way delays the actual departure of the UK from the EU immediately following the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement.”
There are fears the hardline Brexists in the European Research Group could vote for the agreement today then block the legislation, leading to no-deal on Halloween.
There is a major pro-EU march in London today. Picture credit: Eurasia Times