News, Culture & Society

Boris Johnson WINS first vote on his Brexit Bill Second Reading

brexit countdown_bgCreated with Sketch.

MPs handed the fate of Brexit back to the EU tonight – despite managing to unite around a blueprint for the first time.

The PM recorded an historic triumph as the House of Commons approved his deal in principle by 329 votes to 299, following hours of tense debate in the House of Commons. 

But Mr Johnson then suffered a huge setback as MPs effectively blocked him from keeping his ‘do or die’ vow to cut ties with the EU by October 31 – with the Commons torpedoing his 72-hour timetable for passing crucial legislation by 322 to 308.

Mr Johnson now faces being forced to haggle with Brussels over what length of extension it will grant, as he pleads with them to keep it as short as possible.  

After the results were declared, Mr Johnson hailed the historic breakthrough, saying he was ‘joyful’ that MPs had finally agreed on a Brexit blueprint. 

How tonight’s two key votes were won – and lost

The PM faced two massive showdowns in the Commons tonight – one over his deal itself and another to get MPs to agree the 72-hour timetable he has set out to push it through.

Second reading: The first big vote on the Brexit legislation, took place at 7pm.

MPs were asked to approve the Bill in principle, so it can go forward for detailed scrutiny.

If the text had been rejected at this point, it was effectively dead.

But Number 10 had the numbers for approval after a mix of Labour moderates, ex-Tory rebels and the vast majority of the so-called Tory Spartans, who voted against Theresa May’s deal three times, came on board.

He secured an historic win on a Brexit deal with MPs voting 329 – 299 in favour of Mr Johnson’s blueprint.  

Programme motion: The government was trying to set a tight timetable so the law can be rushed through to meet Boris Johnson’s ‘do or die’ Brexit date of October 31.

MPs were asked to approve a 72-hour timetable to push it through by next week.

But many complained that it did not give enough time to scrutinise the Bill.

MPs voted it down, torpedoing his 72-hour timetable for passing crucial legislation by 322 to 308. 

Defeat made the PM’s Halloween deadline almost impossible to meet – and he now faces haggling over the timeframe of an extension with EU leaders. 

Victory in the ‘second reading’ means the package has cleared the initial hurdle towards becoming law. It is the first time any agreement has been backed in a vote by MPs, and the margin was significantly larger than had been expected. 

But – despite former chancellor Ken Clarke entreating him to press on – Mr Johnson insisted must now ‘pause’ the legislation while Brussels decides its response to a request for an extension. 

He was obliged to ask for a delay on Saturday thanks to the Benn Act passed by rebel Remainers. 

Mr Johnson said: ‘I must express my disappointment that the house has again voted for delay rather than a timetable that would have guaranteed that the UK would have been in a position top leave the EU on October 31 with a deal.

‘And we now face further uncertainty and the EU must now make up their minds over how to answer parliament’s request for a delay…

‘I will speak to EU member states about their intentions until they have reached a decision.

‘Until we have reached a decision I am afraid we will pause this legislation. Let me be clear. Our policy remains that we should not delay, that we should leave the EU on October 31 and that is what I will say to the EU and I will report back to the House.

‘One way or another we will leave the EU with this deal to which this House has just given its assent and I thank members across the house for that hard won agreement.’ 

Before the outcome of the divisions were declared, the premier had tried to heap pressure on wavering MPs by threatening to pull the legislation if the timetable was voted down.

However, he struck a significantly more emollient tone after the results.  

Boris Johnson saw his Brexit deal given historic initial approval by MPs – but they also torpedoed his plan to rush through the legislation implementing the plan

The margin in the vote was significantly larger than had been expected

John Bercow

The margin in the vote was significantly larger than had been expected. Speaker John Bercow (right) was in charge of proceedings tonight

Jeremy Corbyn ignored the threat of a general election as he responded to the PM in the Commons debate today

Eyes will now turn to the EU, as it mulls how to handle the mixed signals coming from the UK. 

If the bloc offered a short extension of weeks – or even days – it would give Mr Johnson huge leverage to secure support from Tory rebels and Labour who are terrified of No Deal. 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: ‘It’s welcome that the House of Commons voted by a clear majority in favour of legislation needed to enact 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.’

European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva tweeted: ‘@EU_Commission takes note of tonight’s result and expects the U.K. government to inform us about the next steps. @eucopresident is consulting leaders on the UK’s request for an extension until 31 January 2020.’ 

However, the signs earlier were that the EU is not inclined to weigh in on the PM’s behalf. 

How can Boris Johnson force an early general election?

There are two ways in which the UK could end up having a general election before the end of 2019. 

Both are set out in the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, and both need the cooperation of Labour to succeed. 

The first is that a Commons vote is held on a motion that simply states: ‘That there shall be an early parliamentary general election.’

In order to pass, that motion must be backed by at least two thirds of MPs which means it would be dependent on the support of Labour in order to succeed. 

Boris Johnson has tried to trigger an election in this way on two previous occasions but he failed on both attempts as opposition MPs refused to back a snap poll. 

The second route to an election is if the government was toppled in a vote of no confidence which convention dictates can only be asked for by the Leader of the Opposition. 

If such a vote was held and it succeeded – potentially with the government opting to abstain in order to lose on purpose – there would then follow a 14 day period in which another government could try to be formed. 

If no new government could command the support of a Commons majority by the close of that period then an early election would be automatically triggered.  

Jeremy Corbyn and other opposition leaders have said that once a No Deal Brexit has been ruled out they would back an election which means the first route is the more likely of the two should the EU agree to a lengthy delay.

However, many Labour figures will be concerned about the prospect of fighting an election where Brexit will be the main issue due to the party’s decision to remain neutral on the subject.

That could prompt Mr Corbyn to change his mind and withhold support in the hope that Brexit has been sorted by the time the country next goes to the polls. 

Another idea which has been floated is that minor parties could be invited to table a vote of no confidence at the government’s behest and that Tory MPs would then abstain so that the Johnson administration would fall, triggering a snap poll. 

However, it is likely Commons Speaker John Bercow would rule this out of order because it is only Jeremy Corbyn who is supposed to be able to ask for such a vote. 

European council president Donald Tusk today made clear the bloc will always act to avoid the UK crashing out, telling the European Parliament: ‘A No Deal Brexit will never be our decision.’

Ministers had been growing increasingly optimistic through the day that the numbers are in place to win the first big vote on the legislation tonight, known as the second reading. 

But there was deepening gloom about the programme motion. Critically for Mr Johnson, former Tory rebels including Rory Stewart and Ken Clarke indicated they intended to go against the government. 

Remainer MPs hope that if they drag their heels the EU will agree to delay the date for months so they can fight for a second referendum. 

The division list showed 19 Labour MPs voted for the Bill at second reading. They were joined by 285 Conservatives – including all 28 of the hardline ‘Spartans’ who never backed Theresa May’s deal – and 25 Independents. 

But just five Labour MPs rebelled to support the programme motion, along with 18 independents. 

After the numbers were declared, Father of the House Mr Clarke urged Mr Johnson to press home his advangate rather than pausing the Bill.

‘I can’t quite see the logic of pausing progress on the Bill when the whole House is expecting the next two days to be spent on it,’ he said. 

‘It would enable us to see how quickly the House is actually proceeding, what sort of time is being looked for, it may enable then, if people start filibustering, which I hope they won’t, for the Government to get a majority for a timetable motion if it came back which was a modest adjustment to the one he had, because I think three or four days more would certainly do it.’

Labour MP Gareth Snell, who backed the Bill, also urged the government to keep going.

‘The injury inflicted this evening was a mere flesh wound, and if the Leader of the House was willing to bring forward a motion tomorrow with a more considered timetable for committee stage, it would pass this House,’ he said.

‘Some of us voted for second reading precisely so we could get on to the next stage for more scrutiny, and didn’t support the programme motion because we did not believe there was sufficient time.’

Another supportive Labour MP, Ruth Smeeth, said: ‘All we’re asking for is the opportunity to ensure that the deal which was only presented to us last night works for our constituents and my local economy – we need slightly more time.’ 

Mr Corbyn said the House had ‘refused to be bounced into debating a hugely significant piece of legislation in just two days with barely any notice and analysis of the economic impact of this Bill’. 

‘Work with us, all of us to agree a reasonable timetable, and I suspect this House will vote to debate, scrutinise and, I hope, commend the detail of this Bill. That would be the sensible way forward, and that is the offer I make on behalf of the opposition tonight,’ he said. 

In a gambit designed to maximise support for the programme motion earlier, Mr Johnson said: ‘I will in no way allow months more of this. 

‘If parliament refuses to allow Brexit to happen and instead gets its way and decides to delay everything until January or possibly longer, in no circumstances can the government continue with this. 

‘With great regret I must say the Bill will have to be pulled and we will have to go forward to a general election, in no circumstances can the government continue with this. 

‘I will argue at that election 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 Scotland. The people will decide.’  

Mr Corbyn completely ignored the issue of an election in his response to the PM. Mr Johnson would need his cooperation to force a snap poll, and Labour has twice blocked such a move, but Mr Corbyn has committed to backing one if Brexit is delayed.  

In another bewildering day as politicians desperately wrestled for control of the country’s destiny:

  • Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage warned Mr Johnson’s deal will turn the UK into a ‘colony’ of the EU and urged a delay so that an election can be held;
  • Jean-Claude Juncker moaned that his time as EU commission president had been dominated by Brexit, branding it a ‘waste of time and energy’; 
  • Sinn Fein gloated that the Brexit turmoil is likely to spark a referendum on unifying the island of Ireland within five years; 
  • A YouGov poll found the Tories are 15 points ahead of Labour, underlining fears among Mr Corbyn’s MPs that an election will be a disaster; 

Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg upped the stakes earlier by warning that ‘a vote against the programme motion is a vote against Brexit’, 

The tough talk looked to backfire with some MPs. Former Tory MP Ed Vaizey responded on Twitter: ‘Oh dear. Any more ludicrous tweets like this and I may change my mind and vote against the programme motion.’

Another ex-Conservative MP, Nick Boles dismissed Mr Johnson’s ‘bluff’ on axing the Bill. ‘No 10 is bluffing, as usual. There is no way that after winning a famous victory on 2nd reading the PM is going to pull the bill just because MPs reject the programme motion,’ he tweeted. ‘He will bring forward a revised motion giving us a few more days and blame Parliament for any extension.’ 

The simplest way of staging an early election is to pass a motion with two-thirds support in the Commons. Mr Johnson has failed twice to reach the mark.

But Mr Corbyn has previously promised to support an early poll if there is an extension agreed with the EU to remove the immediate threat of No Deal. 

Even if Mr Johnson brings back the legislation, the government is desperately struggling to fend off amendments that would keep the UK in the EU’s customs union or force a referendum 

In a fresh threat this morning, Mr Boles has tabled a change that would prolong the transition period by two years unless Parliament gives explicit approval for it to end in 2021. 

That could prove unacceptable to Eurosceptics and splinter the fragile coalition Mr Johnson has created for his deal. 

During the debate, Cabinet minister Robert Buckland tried to win over critics by suggesting there will be a concession on the issue. 

Earlier, Mr Johnson made a rallying cry to get the Brexit deal over the line, telling MPs: ‘For three-and-a-half years this Parliament has been caught in a deadlock of its own making, and the truth is that all of us bear a measure of responsibility for that outcome.

‘And yet by the same token, we all bear a share of responsibility, we all have the same opportunity now.

‘The escape route is visible, the prize is visible before us, a new beginning with our friends and partners, a new beginning for a global, self-confident, outward-looking country that can do free trade deals around the world as one whole entire United Kingdom.

‘The deal is here on the table, the legislation to deliver it is here before us.

‘A clear majority in the country is now imploring us to get Brexit done in this House of Commons, and I say to this House, let us therefore do it, and let us do it now and tonight.’

Mr Johnson was boosted by the endorsement of his brother Jo, a Remain campaigner who quit the Cabinet last month.

He said he hoped the Bill would secure Royal Assent ‘sooner rather than later’.  

And Oliver Letwin, who sparked fury by tabling a referendum at the weekend that deprived Mr Johnson of a clean vote on his plan, said: ‘Getting seriously worried that HMG will pull Bill if Programme Motion is defeated. 

‘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.’ 

The Fixed-Term Parliaments Act prevents the Prime Minister from choosing when to call an election. 

Instead, he must have the support of two-thirds of MPs or lose a formal vote of no-confidence. Labour has refused to hold a vote of confidence, and it abstained in a vote on an early election. 

Mr Corbyn has said he is keen for an election but many Labour MPs are opposed. So ministers are looking at other ways to force an early poll.

There have been suggestions that a minor parties could be invited to hold a vote of confidence, and Tory MPs would abstain. However, it is though the Speaker will only allow a confidence motion tabled by the official Opposition.

A Bill could be introduced to set aside the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, but there would be a slew of amendments that could render it impossible to pass.

Another option would be for the Government could submit a vote for an election every day until Labour ‘gives in’. 

But in his response, Mr Corbyn merely moaned about the deal and did not address the PM’s call for an election.

‘We warned on Saturday that if the House passes the Government’s deal, it’d be a disaster for our country,’ he said.

‘Now, as we look through the details of the Bill, we see just how right we were.

‘Page after page of what amounts to nothing less than a charter for deregulation and a race to the bottom.

‘A deal and a Bill that fails to protect our rights and our natural world, fails to protect jobs and the economy, fails to protect every region and every nation in the United Kingdom.

‘This Bill confirms Northern Ireland is really in the customs union of the EU and goods will be subjected to tariffs.’

Shadow chancellor and Labour MP John McDonnell tweeted: ‘Johnson threatening a general election because Parliament might want a few more days to scrutinise his Withdrawal Bill. Pathetic. What has he got to hide?’ 

Labour MPs representing Leave constituencies have indicated they will support the Withdrawal Agreement Bill at second reading.

Labour's Gloria De Piero said she would back the Bill at second reading

Wigan MP Lisa Nandy said she was ready to support the legislation at this stage

Labour’s Gloria De Piero (left) and Lisa Nandy (right) said they were ready to support the legislation at second reading

Mr Johnson was boosted by the endorsement of his brother Jo, a Remain campaigner who quit the Cabinet last month

Mr Johnson was boosted by the endorsement of his brother Jo, a Remain campaigner who quit the Cabinet last month

Wigan MP Lisa Nandy and Ashfield MP Gloria De Piero said they would support the Bill at second reading in order to be able to amend it at committee stage.

Intervening during the Labour leader’s speech, Ms Nandy said: ‘For many people back home in towns like Wigan this is an article of faith in the Labour Party.’

Ms De Piero added: ‘I am also minded to vote in favour of a second reading, not because I support that deal but because I don’t. And I want to improve the deal so it reflects the manifesto that I stood on to respect the result of that referendum.’

Responding to Ms De Piero, Mr Corbyn said: ‘I hope that she will understand why I believe this Bill should not be given a second reading, but I’m also sure she will agree with me that to get this Bill to debate less than 17 hours after it was published is a totally unreasonable way of treating Parliament and I hope she will also join in the lobby this evening in opposing the programme motion on this particular Bill.’

Overnight Mr Johnson appealed to MPs to back his deal ‘so that we can leave without disruption and provide a framework for a new relationship based on free trade and friendly co-operation’.

The PM said: ‘I hope Parliament votes to take back control for itself and the British people and the country can start to focus on the cost of living, the NHS, and conserving our environment. 

‘The public doesn’t want any more delays, neither do other European leaders and neither do I. Let’s get Brexit done on October 31 and move on.’

Opening a new front, Mr Boles tweeted that he had tabled an amendment ‘to require the government by default to seek an extension of the transition to Dec 2022 unless MPs pass a resolution to the contrary’. 

‘We must stop No Deal Brexit in Dec 2020,’ he added. 

No10 strategist Dominic Cummings appeared in high spirits as he arrived for work today

No10 strategist Dominic Cummings appeared in high spirits as he arrived for work today

The WAB runs to 110 pages and is accompanied by 124 pages of explanatory notes

The WAB runs to 110 pages and is accompanied by 124 pages of explanatory notes

What happens next? Boris Johnson pauses his Withdrawal Bill after MPs wreck his three-day timetable… so can Britain still leave the EU by October 31? 

The fate of Brexit was plunged into uncertainty this evening after Boris Johnson secured MPs’ backing for his deal only for the House of Commons to then scupper his plans to hit the October 31 divorce deadline. 

MPs voted in favour of the PM’s agreement by 329 votes to 299, a majority of 30 – the first time any Brexit deal has been supported by a Commons majority. 

But the PM then lost a crunch second vote in which he asked MPs to support a plan to crash the 110-page Withdrawal Agreement Bill through the Commons in the space of just three days. 

MPs voted against fast-tracking the legislation that would put the premier’s deal into law and make Brexit happen by 322 votes to 308, a majority of 14, on the grounds they needed more time to scrutinise it. 

Mr Johnson responded to the two votes by welcoming the support for his deal but also by expressing his disappointment that MPs had put the Halloween deadline in peril. 

With no timetable now agreed for the passage of the so-called WAB, Mr Johnson told MPs he would pause his efforts to see if the EU offered the UK an extension. 

He said he would be urging EU leaders not to grant a delay as he vowed to accelerate the government’s No Deal preparations. 

Mr Johnson said he would report back to the Commons once the EU had made its position clear. 

The chaos in the Commons means the UK is now set for a chaotic 48 hours as Downing Street and Brussels try to figure out what to do next. 

Below is an analysis of what has happened and what is likely to happen next as the PM tries to keep alive his hopes of taking the UK out of the EU by October 31.  

Boris Johnson wins a first vote on his Brexit deal as MPs give the Withdrawal Agreement Bill its second reading

Tonight the House of Commons voted in favour of a Brexit deal for the first time since the UK backed leaving the EU in June 2016. 

Theresa May suffered three defeats on her proposed divorce agreement but Mr Johnson won the first proper vote on his deal by 329 to 299, a majority of 30.

The decision to give the Withdrawal Agreement Bill a second reading means that the PM’s deal has now cleared its first major Commons hurdle. 

Boris Johnson, pictured in Downing Street on October 15, today asked MPs to vote for his Brexit deal

Boris Johnson, pictured in Downing Street on October 15, today asked MPs to vote for his Brexit deal

The PM has published his Withdrawal Agreement Bill - the legislation needed to actually make Brexit happen - but even if he wins a vote on it this evening he faces a major battle to stick to the October 31 deadline

The PM has published his Withdrawal Agreement Bill – the legislation needed to actually make Brexit happen – but even if he wins a vote on it this evening he faces a major battle to stick to the October 31 deadline

Jeremy Corbyn whipped his MPs to vote against it, as did the DUP, the Lib Dems and the Scottish Nationalists. 

But Number 10 was able to make progress after winning over almost all the hardline Brexiteers who killed off Mrs May’s deal as well as some former Tory Remain rebels and a handful of Labour pro-deal MPs.  

MPs vote against the programme motion setting out how much time would be spent debating the Withdrawal Agreement Bill 

Immediately after MPs voted to support the PM’s deal they then voted on the government’s proposed timetable for debating and agreeing the legislation needed to make Brexit an orderly Brexit happen. 

The government had proposed two midnight sittings today and tomorrow to get the bulk of the work done. 

But opposition MPs – and some Tory rebels – demanded more time for debate after the WAB was only published for the first time last night. 

Labour had offered the government a deal for MPs to be given nine days to discuss the Bill but that would have made it impossible to meet the Halloween deadline. 

The government refused to make changes to the timetable and MPs then voted against the way forward by 322 votes to 308, a majority of 14. 

That means that Mr Johnson’s Brexit legislation is now in a state of limbo: Still very much alive but its passage through Parliament has been paused. 

Mr Johnson said this afternoon that if MPs voted against the programme motion and the EU offered a delay to January he would pull his deal and try to trigger an election. 

But after the result of the second vote was announced Mr Johnson said he will wait for the EU to make a decision on a Brexit delay before making his next move. 

So what happens now? 

Mr Johnson praised MPs for backing his deal but expressed his ‘disappointment’ that the Commons had ‘again voted for delay rather than a timetable that would have guaranteed that the UK would have been in a position to leave the EU on October 31 with a deal’.

He then said the EU would dictate what happens next as he kept open the option of trying again to get the WAB through the Commons. 

He told MPs: ‘The EU must now make up their minds over how to answer parliament’s request for a delay.

‘The first consequence is that the government must take the only responsible course and accelerate our preparations for a No Deal outcome.

‘But secondly, I will speak to EU member states about their intentions until they have reached a decision.

‘Until we have reached a decision I am afraid we will pause this legislation. Let me be clear. Our policy remains that we should not delay, that we should leave the EU on October 31 and that is what I will say to the EU and I will report back to the House.

‘One way or another we will leave the EU with this deal to which this House has just given its assent and I thank members across the house for that hard won agreement.’  

What will the EU agree?

Mr Johnson was forced at the weekend to submit a legally required request to the EU for a Brexit delay under the terms of the anti-No Deal Benn Act. The Benn Act suggested a delay to the end of January next year.

He made clear at the time that he did not want any such extension to be granted by the bloc and he will do the same when he calls his European counterparts in the coming hours. 

However, Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, said the EU would consider the request for a delay at the weekend even though Mr Johnson said he did not want one. 

He is likely to adopt a similar tone if Mr Johnson calls him to say the same again. 

Mr Tusk today said that the EU would never be responsible for a No Deal Brexit in comments which signalled the bloc is willing to offer an extension even if Mr Johnson opposed one. 

The question for the EU now is whether to grant the extension proposed in the Benn Act or to offer a shorter delay. 

A delay to January 31 would almost certainly prompt Mr Johnson to shelve his deal and try to force an early election on the grounds that postponing Brexit for three months is totally unacceptable. 

That makes a shorter extension potentially more likely because if the EU offered the UK two more weeks beyond October 31 so that MPs have a bit more time to scrutinise the deal Mr Johnson could accept it because an orderly Brexit would be in sight. 

Either way, with each passing day it will become more and more difficult for Mr Johnson to hit the Halloween deadline and a delay is increasingly a possibility.

Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg, pictured yesterday, set out the proposed timetable for debating the WAB. Many MPs want more time to digest the contents of the Bill

Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg, pictured yesterday, set out the proposed timetable for debating the WAB. Many MPs want more time to digest the contents of the Bill

So is the PM’s deal dead?

No. In fact it is very much alive and if the EU were to offer a short Brexit delay Downing Street could elect to bring forward a new programme motion settingf out a new and slightly longer timetable. 

If a new programme motion were to be agreed by MPs the WAB would then immediately move onto its committee stage – the bit in the legislative process when MPs can table amendments. 

There would be lots of amendments brought forward by MPs in a bid to change the PM’s divorce deal. 

But Number 10 would be most wary of two: One which would force the UK to be in a customs union with the EU after Brexit and one on making the PM’s agreement subject to a second referendum. 

The customs union amendment is expected to be brought forward by Labour. It would make post-Brexit free trade deals all but impossible. 

A similar proposal in April lost by only three votes. Downing Street aides have made it clear they will not swallow a customs union – the issue on which Mr Johnson quit Mrs May’s government – and suggest such an amendment would kill the Bill. 

With Tory rebels backing away from the idea yesterday, any vote would hinge on actions of the DUP, SNP and Labour leavers.

The second referendum amendment would be likely to be tabled by Labour backbenchers. 

It would propose a Brexit delay until the country has voted on Brexit for a second time with Mr Johnson’s deal pitched against Remain. 

If it passed, Mr Johnson would then have to abandon the Bill and – in the short term – Brexit. 

But despite the determined efforts of Remain campaigners, the Commons has never voted for a second referendum, and there seems little prospect of a majority emerging at this stage.

The WAB itself: Proposed continuation of EU law 

If it gets to committee stage, there are a number of problematic areas in the WAB which could be difficult for some MPs to vote for. 

One relates to the continued application of EU law in the UK after the Brexit divorce date. 

The last government under Mrs May delighted Tory Eurosceptic MPs by bringing forward and passing the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.

Many of the measures contained within the WAB will be opposed by different groups of MPs setting up potential clashes in the House of Commons (pictured yesterday) in the coming days

Many of the measures contained within the WAB will be opposed by different groups of MPs setting up potential clashes in the House of Commons (pictured yesterday) in the coming days

The Withdrawal Agreement Bill proposes resurrecting the hated European Communities Act 1972. The government has tried to assuage the concerns of Brexiteers like Sir Bill Cash

The Withdrawal Agreement Bill proposes resurrecting the hated European Communities Act 1972. The government has tried to assuage the concerns of Brexiteers like Sir Bill Cash

That legislation committed to repealing the European Communities Act 1972 – the law which took the UK into the EU and gave Brussels law supremacy over British law – when Brexit takes place. 

However, clause one of the WAB would pause the repeal of the Act so that the UK would remain under EU law during the proposed transition period which is due to expire at the end of 2020. 

This was always expected to happen so that there is a stable basis on which the UK and EU can thrash out the terms of their future trading relationship. 

But the European Communities Act is loathed by Tory Brexit ‘Spartans’ who view it as a symbol of the EU’s unacceptable influence over the UK.  

Meanwhile, the WAB makes clear that should there be an extension to the transition period then the Act would continue to apply. This will be hard for many in the European Research Group of Tory MPs to swallow. 

The government is aware of how much many MPs will hate the prospect of the UK continuing to have to abide by EU law during the implementation period. 

As a result, Mr Johnson has preemptively tried to assuage their concerns through clause 29 of the WAB. 

This would allow the European Scrutiny Select Committee – chaired by leading Brexiteer Sir Bill Cash – to review any problematic EU legislation with recommendations then put to a vote in the House of Commons. 

For example, if the committee deemed a piece of EU law to be damaging to the UK’s national interest it could say so in a report and then MPs would vote on whether to ask the EU to change course.  

Extending the transition period

Anti-No Deal MPs are concerned about what will happen if the EU and UK are unable to agree the terms of their future relationship by the end of the transition period.

The two sides have agreed that if that happens there could then be a further two year transition extension. 

However, as currently drafted the WAB only offers Parliament the right to sign off a proposed extension. 

It does not give MPs the ability to force the government to ask for an extension. 

That means that if the government did not ask the EU for more time to discuss the terms of a free trade agreement the UK would be on course to crash out of the bloc with No Deal. 

MPs will try to amend the legislation to give Parliament more of a say over whether there should be a transition extension. 

Nick Boles, a former Tory and now independent MP, has tabled an amendment which would  effectively guarantee a transition period extension if no trade deal has been agreed between the EU and UK by the end of 2020

Nick Boles, a former Tory and now independent MP, has tabled an amendment which would  effectively guarantee a transition period extension if no trade deal has been agreed between the EU and UK by the end of 2020

Former Tory Nick Boles today tabled an amendment which would require the government by default to seek an extension to the transition to December 2022 unless MPs pass a resolution to the contrary in the event trade talks have not finished.

Tory Brexiteers will oppose any such move. They believe that there should be a hard cut-off point on the transition period so that the UK will finally sever ties with the EU.

The importance of the issue was highlighted today after Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, suggested a trade deal could take at least three years to finalise – long past the current end of 2020 deadline.

The influence of MPs over future trade negotiations

The government is proposing giving Parliament oversight of negotiations for the future relationship between the EU and UK. 

Effectively, the government would set out its negotiating objectives to MPs and then ask them to vote for the proposed way forward. 

MPs could then vote to change those objectives and the government is committing to then pursue the agreed objectives during talks with Brussels. 

However, any changes would still have to comply with what the UK and EU have agreed in the political declaration – the second bit of Mr Johnson’s Brexit deal – which sets out the broad goals of future talks. 

Labour pro-deal MPs have previously said that giving parliament a say on future negotiating objectives could be enough to win their support. It remains to be seen whether what has been proposed goes far enough for them to back the PM’s accord. 

No more ‘meaningful vote’

A law passed by MPs last year dictated that the government would have to win a ‘meaningful vote’ on a Brexit deal as well as passing legislation to implement the deal in order for the UK to leave the EU in an orderly fashion. 

However, after Mr Johnson tried and failed to hold a ‘meaningful vote’ on Saturday and was then denied the chance to hold another one yesterday the government is proposing to delete the requirement. 

Clause 32 of the WAB would abolish the need to hold a ‘meaningful vote’ with the passage of the new legislation enough to deliver Brexit. 

Northern Ireland and the payment of the Brexit bill

The WAB commits to Mr Johnson’s replacement for the Irish border backstop which will see Northern Ireland treated differently to the rest of the UK on the key issue of customs. The DUP will continue to oppose the measures and could try to change them. 

In clause 20, the WAB enshrines the payment of the Brexit bill – worth an estimated £39 billion – into British law.

Many Brexiteers believe the UK should not have to hand over the money at all while others believe payment should be tied to whether a trade deal is successfully agreed. 

However, if Brexiteers vote for the PM’s deal at second reading it is unlikely they would then blow up the legislation during committee stage by trying to change the payment plans. 

Jean-Claude Juncker (left) and Michel Barnier (right), pictured this morning in Strasbourg, have made clear to the European Parliament that they want MEPs to support the Brexit deal

Jean-Claude Juncker (left) and Michel Barnier (right), pictured this morning in Strasbourg, have made clear to the European Parliament that they want MEPs to support the Brexit deal

Suspending normal requirements for scrutinising new treaties

A complex piece of legislation called the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act dictates that MPs should be given 21 days to consider a new international treaty before they are asked to vote on it. 

The government is suspending this requirement in a bid to stick to the October 31 deadline. 

Many MPs are not happy about the amount of time being made available to them to digest the terms of the divorce agreement and ‘CRAG’ could become a major row. 

After the Commons the WAB must get through the House of Lords      

Assuming the government can get the WAB through the Commons without any major changes having been made to it, the legislation would then go to the House of Lords for further scrutiny. 

If MPs have voted for a law convention dictates that ultimately peers will also have to agree to it because of the supremacy of the Commons over the upper chamber. 

But the Remain-heavy House of Lords is likely to want to take its time as it debates the WAB.

The government will do everything it can to get the legislation through speedily but it will face intense resistance from peers.

The final hurdle: The European Parliament 

The European Parliament will only debate and vote on the Brexit deal if and when it has been agreed by the UK Parliament. 

EU chiefs have urged MEPs to back the deal and it is thought that when it comes to the crunch a majority will support the agreement.

If they do then the deal will be home and dry. But if the European Parliament blocks it then the EU and UK will be forced to go back to the drawing board.   

 

 

 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


Comments are closed.