Brexit: What could happen next in the unfolding political drama?
It is the Monday after “Super Saturday” – when the commons held a weekend sitting for the first time in 37 years – but it did not go as Boris Johnson had hoped. So what now?
What happened on Saturday?
Johnson hoped it would be the day that parliament would back his deal, but it was not to be. His Brexit deal dream was scuppered – for now – by the much-talked-about Letwin amendment.
MPs voted by a majority of 16 to back the amendment put forward by former cabinet minister Sir Oliver Letwin to withhold approval of the Brexit deal agreed between Johnson and Brussels “unless and until implementing legislation is passed”.
Letwin, who lost the Tory whip for voting against the government on Brexit previously, said the amendment was “insurance” against the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal by mistake on the scheduled deadline of October 31.
How did the Government react?
The prime minister decided not to have a so-called “meaningful vote” on his deal in light of the Letwin amendment passing.
The government will introduce the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) in the Commons on 21 October, with a second reading vote likely to take place on 22 October.
What is the WAB?
The WAB is the government’s Brexit bill – the legislation needed for Brexit – which would implement the new deal agreed with the EU in UK law.
Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay said:
If Parliament wants to respect the referendum, it must back the bill.
But will there be another vote on the deal, and if so when?
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the House of Commons, said at the weekend that the government wants to hold another meaningful vote on Johnson’s deal on Monday.
Commons Speaker John Bercow, who Tory Brexiteers have accused of being pro-Remain, is expected to rule on whether the government can bring the so-called “meaningful vote” on its plans.
He could say that such a vote effectively happened on Saturday and cannot be repeated so soon.
Could Johnson still get his deal through Parliament?
Yes, but time is running out before the October 31 deadline as the European Parliament would also need to ratify it, and it is unclear how soon MEPs will do that.
European Parliament’s chief Brexit official, Guy Verhofstadt, said last week MEPs will only start their work once the UK Parliament has passed a fully binding Brexit deal, and if that slips past the European plenary session this week, it may have to be picked up in the session that begins on November 13.
And without a meaningful vote in Parliament, support for the agreement has not yet been tested.
Though Johnson has attracted support from a number of prominent Brexiteer Tories, including the European Research Group (ERG), the DUP is strongly opposed to the deal.
What will happen if Mr Bercow does not allow a vote on the deal?
If Bercow blocks the vote, focus will switch to the government bringing its WAB before MPs on 21 October, with a vote on its second reading the following day.
Ministers insist they “have the numbers” to push the agreement through, but the parliamentary situation appears to be on a tightrope.
Labour has made clear it will try to amend the legislation by putting down amendments for a second Brexit referendum and a customs union with the EU.
What about the letters sent to the EU by Johnson?
Under the terms of the Benn Act, which was passed against the PM’s wishes, Johnson was compelled to write to the EU asking for a three-month Brexit extension if he had not secured a deal by 11pm on October 19.
He told the commons: “I will not negotiate a delay with the EU, and neither does the law compel me to do so.”
But he did send two letters to European Council president Donald Tusk.
First, there was an unsigned photocopy of the request he was obliged to send under the Benn Act, followed by a letter explaining why the government did not actually want an extension.
So will the EU grant an extension?
Despite European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker raising doubts over another Brexit delay, the decision needs to be taken by all 27 remaining EU states, not him.
On 19 October, Tusk said he would now start “consulting EU leaders on how to react”.
The EU could set a different length to an extension, either shorter or longer than the three-month one cited in the Benn Act.
The EU may also decide not to formally respond to such a letter from Johnson until it sees if he can get the Withdrawal Agreement Bill through Parliament.
Despite all this, the PM is insisting that the UK will still quit the EU in 10 days.
Will there be an emergency EU summit?
If Johnson gets the Withdrawal Agreement Bill through, there could be a special gathering of leaders on October 28.
If the deal needs more time at that stage to get through parliament, leaders could agree to a short extension.
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