Brexit extension likely as Johnson’s bid to fast-track Bill is defeated

PM calls approval of Bill’s second reading ‘joyful’, while Tusk says he will back delay

UK prime minister Boris Johnson in the House of Commons after several MPs who supported the principle of key legislation opposed efforts to fast-track it through the Commons. Photograph: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA Wire

UK prime minister Boris Johnson in the House of Commons after several MPs who supported the principle of key legislation opposed efforts to fast-track it through the Commons. Photograph: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA Wire

 

Boris Johnson was last night preparing to discuss with EU leaders the terms of a delay to Brexit after MPs voted in favour of his withdrawal agreement Bill but rejected a timetable that would have passed it by October 31st.

MPs approved the Bill’s second reading by 329 to 299, a majority of 30 and the first time the House of Commons has voted for any Brexit deal.

But they rejected the timetable, which would have seen the Bill pass through all its stages in the Commons, by 322 votes to 308. The DUP, which has rejected the Brexit deal because of its proposed arrangements for Northern Ireland, voted against the government in both votes. 

Mr Johnson welcomed the majority for the deal as “joyful” but said the rejection of his timetable meant he would pause the legislation.

“I will speak to EU member states about their intentions. Until they have reached a decision – until we reach a decision, I will say – we will pause this legislation,” he said.

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“And let me be clear: our policy remains that we should not delay, that we should leave the EU on October 31st. That is what I will say to the EU and I will report back to the House. And one way or another we will leave the EU with this deal to which this House has just given its assent.”

Saturday’s letter

Mr Johnson last Saturday sent a letter to the European Council requesting an extension of the UK’s membership of the EU until January 31st, as he was required to do under the Benn Act.

European Council president Donald Tusk said he would recommend that EU leaders grant the extension, adding that no special summit would be needed to agree it.

“Following prime minister Boris Johnson’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. For this I will propose a written procedure,” he said.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was the first EU leader to react to the vote last night.

“It’s welcome that the House of Commons voted by a clear majority in favour of legislation needed to enact the withdrawal agreement. We will now await further developments from London and Brussels about next steps, including timetable for the legislation and the need for an extension,” he said.

Speculation in Dublin immediately switched to the impact of the vote on the likelihood of a November general election in the UK. One Minister conceded that the chances of an election were diminished but another source said the result could prompt Mr Johnson to seek a general election. 

“And if they’re having an election, we’re having an election,” the source said.

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