It was the moment an exasperated nation let out a collective howl of frustration.
At precisely 2.50pm yesterday, when Britain might finally have hoped to move ahead with Brexit, Commons Speaker John Bercow announced that MPs had again voted – by 322 to 306 – for more delays to the seemingly interminable process.
But a defiant Boris Johnson immediately vowed not to be beaten by the ‘wreckers’, saying any further delays to his October 31 deadline would be ‘pointless, expensive and corrosive of public trust’.
And last night his ploy to outmanoeuvre the Brexit blockers was revealed, as he sent not just one letter to the EU, but three – one asking for an extension, as Parliament had compelled him to do, and two more making it clear it was not the Government’s wish.
On their historic Saturday sitting, MPs voted for an amendment tabled by former Cabinet Minister Sir Oliver Letwin, which means the Commons must further debate the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal.
It meant Mr Johnson could not secure support yesterday, so, under the controversial Benn Act, he had to write to Brussels to request an extension to the UK’s membership beyond the end of the month.
It was the moment an exasperated nation let out a collective howl of frustration. Pictured: Jeremy Corbyn
But in a separate signed letter to the EU, the PM described a delay as ‘deeply corrosive’ and would ‘damage the interests’ of both sides.
He vowed that the UK would continue to ratify the deal and said EU should do the same.
Mr Johnson seemed to have the support of French President Emmanuel Macron, who said that a Brexit delay would be ‘in the interest of no one’.
At precisely 2.50pm yesterday, when Britain might finally have hoped to move ahead with Brexit , Commons Speaker John Bercow (pictured) announced that MPs had again voted – by 322 to 306 – for more delays to the seemingly interminable process
Before his ploy was revealed, Mr Johnson told a febrile Commons: ‘I will not negotiate a delay with the EU and neither does the law compel me to.’
He said he would bring legislation forward tomorrow and call a new Commons vote on the deal he dramatically secured in Brussels last week.
On a day of high political drama at Westminster:
- Sir Oliver and fellow Tory rebels faced a furious backlash for sabotaging the ‘super Saturday’ plan to finally end the country’s Brexit nightmare, as he faced claims that he had acted in cahoots with a pro-Remain lawyer;
- Hopes rose that Mr Johnson could muster a majority for his Brexit plans after Labour MPs and Tory rebels indicated they could vote for his deal after he asked for a delay;
- Home Secretary Priti Patel contacted the six Labour MPs who voted with the Government to offer help with their security amid reports that they had received violent threats; lSpeaker Bercow hinted that he might prevent the Government from holding a binding vote on the deal this week;
- Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn faced a new civil war over claims that he secretly hoped to lose the vote;
- MPs said they would try to introduce new laws to ban ‘collusion’ between foreign governments and the Commons over the drafting of legislation, following claims that Sir Oliver and other members of the so-called ‘rebel alliance’ had received help from abroad;
- Thousands of campaigners for a second referendum marched in London, as The Mail on Sunday obtained leaked emails implicating Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell in a Blairite takeover of the organisation behind it;
- Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg was heckled by the protesters as he walked through Westminster with his young son Peter;
- Nigel Farage rejected an attempt to ‘buy off’ his opposition to the PM’s deal with a peerage.
Sir Oliver’s amendment that activated the Benn Act was backed by Labour MPs and ten former Tory rebels, including ex-Chancellor Philip Hammond and former Justice Secretary David Gauke.
It was also supported by the DUP after Mr Johnson’s last-ditch meetings with the Unionists failed to change their minds.
The vote flew in the face of opinion polls showing strong public support for MPs to back the deal and finally resolve the Brexit saga.
During angry scenes in the first Commons Saturday sitting since the 1982 Falklands War, Mr Corbyn demanded that the Prime Minister should ‘obey the law’ and ask the EU for an extension.
But last night, No 10 ordered Sir Tim Barrow, the UK’s Permanent Representative in Brussels, to convey a total of three letters.
One was photocopy of the letter set out in the Benn Act which asks the EU to delay Brexit – which was not signed by Boris Johnson.
The second was a covering letter from Sir Tim making clear that the request was from Parliament, not the Government.
On their historic Saturday sitting, MPs voted for an amendment tabled by former Cabinet Minister Sir Oliver Letwin (pictured), which means the Commons must further debate the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal
The third was a signed letter by Mr Johnson – which was also being sent to the leaders of the 27 other EU nations – in which he distanced himself from the first letter by making clear that he strongly opposes any delay to Brexit.
After Mr Johnson said he would introduce legislation and call a new vote, Mr Bercow – who has been accused of ‘stitching up’ Commons business to help Remainers – complained he had been ‘blindsided’ and suggested he might rule it out of order.
The Prime Minister told the Commons that the Brexit issue must not be allowed to ‘consume’ Westminster any more. ‘The House will need no reminding that this is the second deal and the fourth vote, three-and-a-half years after the nation voted for Brexit.
‘And during those years, friendships have been strained, families divided and the attention of this House consumed by a single issue that has at times felt incapable of resolution.
Sir Oliver’s amendment that activated the Benn Act was backed by Labour MPs and ten former Tory rebels, including ex-Chancellor Philip Hammond (pictured) and former Justice Secretary David Gauke
‘But I hope that this is the moment when we can finally achieve that resolution and reconcile the instincts that compete within us.’
However, despite the defeat, hopes in Downing Street rose that Mr Johnson will eventually have the numbers to pass his Brexit deal.
The 306 who voted with the Government yesterday included all 283 currently serving Conservative MPs and 11 of the 21 Tories expelled by Mr Johnson last month.
And some of the Tory rebels who voted with Mr Letwin – including Mr Gauke and Nick Boles – have indicated that they would support the deal after the extension had been requested.
In a further boost, the numbers voting for Mr Johnson’s deal yesterday were swelled by six Labour MPs and five former Labour MPs who sit as independents.
Other Labour MPs, including Gareth Snell, suggested that they would vote for a deal in the future, indicating Mr Johnson has a path to a majority when he attempts a fresh vote this week.
Government whips are confident they can get ‘double figures’ of Labour MPs to support the Brexit deal next time, hitting the crucial Commons majority target of 320.