Johnson’s bill could stumble as soon as it clears first hurdle

DUP oppose Rees-Mogg plan to usher timetable motion through parliament at breakneck speed

Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees Mogg.     Photograph: Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament

Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees Mogg. Photograph: Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament

 

Boris Johnson can look forward to a rare Commons victory on Tuesday when MPs are expected to vote in favour of taking his Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) across its first parliamentary hurdle, the second reading. But he was scrambling on Monday to find the votes to pass the Bill’s programme motion, the timetable for its passage through Westminster.

House leader Jacob Rees-Mogg on Monday announced a plan to move the Bill through at breakneck speed, with the debate starting in the Commons on Tuesday and MPs voting on Thursday before the legislation moves to the Lords.

The DUP’s chief whip Jeffrey Donaldson told Mr Rees-Mogg that the timetable was inadequate for the scrutiny of such an important piece of legislation. Some of the expelled Conservatives who support the Bill are also expected to join opposition parties in voting against the programme motion.

If the government loses the vote on the timetable, Johnson will miss his chance to take Britain out of the EU by October 31st (even if he wins it, the European Parliament would need to schedule a special session to ratify the deal in time to reach the deadline). Mr Rees-Mogg told MPs on Monday that a vote against the programme motion was a vote against delivering Brexit on time and if it loses, the government could withdraw the Bill and seek a general election.

Amendments

If the Bill does proceed, MPs will seek to amend it and Labour has said it will back amendments seeking to oblige the government to attempt to negotiate a customs union with the EU and to put the Brexit deal to a referendum.

The Bill allows MPs to vote on the government’s negotiating mandate for Britain’s future relationship with the EU but that mandate “must be consistent with the political declaration” accompanying the withdrawal agreement. This says that Britain will seek a free-trade agreement with the EU, not a customs union.

Downing Street said on Monday that it was continuing to engage with the DUP with a view to offering some assurances through domestic legislation that would help to ease their disquiet over the consent mechanism for arrangements for Northern Ireland. But the DUP has not yet heard anything from the government that reassures them and the revelation on Monday that Northern Ireland businesses will have to complete declarations for goods they ship to Britain has fuelled unionist anger further.

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