Boris Johnson today dramatically threatened to pull the Brexit Bill and demand a snap election before Christmas if MPs block efforts to rush his deal through in crunch votes tonight.
The PM is facing two massive showdowns in the Commons this evening, one over his deal itself and another to get MPs to agree the 72-hour timetable he has set out to push it through.
Aides are increasingly hopeful he can get approval for his deal in principle, after former Tory rebels and up to a dozen Labour politicians signalled they will fall into line. But Mr Johnson is struggling to gather the numbers to endorse the programme motion – which lays down the incredibly tight schedule necessary so he can honour his ‘do or die’ vow to get out of the EU by October 31.
In a stark message to waverers threatening to deprive him of an historic breakthrough, Mr Johnson said rejection of the programme motion would mean the legislation being abandoned.
‘I will in no way allow months more of this,’ he told a raucous chamber. ‘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.
Tonight’s two key votes
The PM is facing 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, expected at around 7pm.
MPs will be asked to approve the Bill in principle, so it can go forward for detailed scrutiny.
If the text is rejected at this point, it is effectively dead.
But Number 10 is confident it now has 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, indicated they will back the plan in the past few days.
Programme motion: The crucial vote. The government is 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.
This vote asks MPs to approve a 72-hour timetable to push it through by next week.
Many are complaining that it does not give enough time to scrutinise the Bill and Jeremy Corbyn and other opposition leaders are expected to order their MPs to reject Mr Johnson’s incredibly tight timetable.
If the government loses it will make the PM’s Halloween deadline almost impossible to meet. The PM has now threatened to pull the Bill entirely if MPs vote his timetable down – throwing the focus on the EU to confirm whether it will accept a Brexit delay until the new year, and piling pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to accept his challenge to a general election before Christmas.
‘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.’
Jeremy 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.
The bold move by Mr Johnson sparked speculation that he is trying to bounce the EU into helping him force through the deal.
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.
However, the EU does not seem to be inclined to weigh in on the PM’s behalf.
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 have 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 before Mr Johnson’s gambit there was deepening gloom about the programme motion.
Critically for Mr Johnson, former Tory rebels including Rory Stewart and Ken Clarke have indicated they intend to go against the government.
Others such as Sir Oliver Letwin have made clear they will support it, and a handful of Labour MPs will be on board – leaving the result on a knife edge,
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.
Boris Johnson renewed his call to ‘get Brexit done’ as he fired the starting gun on a 72-hour dash to get the crucial legislation through
Jeremy Corbyn ignored the threat of a general election as he responded to the PM in the Commons debate today
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 survives the ‘Titanic Tuesday’ votes tonight, 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, former Tory MP Nick 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.
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.
That could prove unacceptable to Eurosceptics and splinter the fragile coalition Mr Johnson has created for his deal.
In a rallying cry to get the Brexit deal over the line, Mr Johnson told the House: ‘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 (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
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.’
What happens next in the Brexit crisis?
Tuesday: Potentially the most critical day for the Brexit deal. Debate on the WA legislation has begun in the Commons, with crucial second reading votes expected in the evening.
If the Bill is torpedoed at this point, the Brexit process will be back to square one.
The programme motion will also need to be approved, setting out the timetable for legislation being passed, if Mr Johnson is to have much chance of getting Brexit through for October 31.
The PM has threatened to pull the law if the schedule is not agreed by MPs.
Wednesday-Thursday: Assuming the second reading is successful and Mr Johnson does not scrap the Bill, detailed scrutiny will be carried out in the Commons and the Lords.
There are set to be knife-edge votes on amendments calling for customs union membership and a second referendum.
All being well, final approval should be given at third reading on Thursday night.
However, if the PM has withdrawn the legislation the EU will be considering whether to grant the extension that Mr Johnson has been forced to request.
Leaders are thought to be split between offering a short delay, perhaps weeks, or one lasting months that could allow an election or referendum.
Friday-Sunday: If the Bill is still alive, it will be moving to the Lords at this point, where another fight for supremacy beckons between the government and Remainers.
October 28: The EU has suggested an emergency summit could be held on this date to consider a Brexit extension if the deal has not gone through Parliament.
Alternatively the bloc could simply sign off a delay by correspondence rather than gathering for another discussion barely a week after their last summit.
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.’
Government sources said there was a ‘good chance’ the deal would pass its first Commons hurdle today when MPs vote on whether they support it in principle.
But there is a growing revolt over Mr Johnson’s plans to push the deal through quickly to meet his ‘do or die’ pledge to leave by October 31.
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.
Mr Rees-Mogg stunned MPs last night by announcing a 72-hour timetable for pushing the 110-page Withdrawal Agreement Bill, which will put the deal into law, through the Commons.
Along with the Government’s publication of the bill, No. 10 released a promotional video on its Twitter page accompanied by dramatic music and a montage of images.
It said: ‘Our new deal with the EU means we can leave on October 31. Take back control of our laws, borders and money .. This new deal will allow us to move on and focus on the people’s priorities.’
But there are aspects of the Brexit deal which will raise eyebrows among staunch Leavers, including:
- A provision that will see the country still subject to the rulings of judges at the European Court of Justice during the transition period, scheduled to last until January 2021;
- Commitments for the Commons to have votes on whether to follow suit every time the EU introduces new employment rights;
- Promises for ministers to consult trade unions on all new laws that impact workers’ rights;
- Explanatory notes published with the Bill reveal ministers expect a new organisation to monitor the rights of EU citizens in the UK will cost £146million over ten years.
MPs will vote on the programme motion just after 7pm tonight. If ministers are defeated, the Government would lose control of the timetable, meaning there would be almost no chance of getting the law passed by October 31.
Former Tory chief whip Mark Harper said anyone voting against the timetable would be trying to wreck Brexit, adding: ‘They cannot hide in plain sight. They will be frustrating Brexit and this House’s ability to deliver on the EU referendum result.’
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay yesterday called on MPs to ‘respect the referendum’ by backing the Bill, warning them: ‘This is the chance to leave the EU with a deal on October 31.’
The DUP says it will vote against the deal in protest at proposals for requiring customs checks on goods travelling to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
But the vast majority of the so-called Tory Spartans, who voted against Theresa May’s deal three times, have indicated they will back the plan.
And ministers believe up to a dozen Labour MPs from pro-Leave seats could now back it under pressure from their constituents.
However, they fear that the loss of the timetable motion could allow MPs to string out approval of the legislation for weeks, potentially forcing Mr Johnson to accept a Brexit extension from the EU he has vowed to resist.
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
Under the provisions of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act (CRAG), an international treaty – such as the Brexit deal – must be laid before Parliament for at least 21 sitting days before ratification to take place.
However in order for the Government’s timetable to be met, there is a provision in the WAB which ‘disapplies’ the relevant section of the CRAG.
MPs have complained that the short time frame to debate the Prime Minister’s new Brexit deal avoids proper scrutiny.
After the Bill was introduced for a first reading in the Commons last night evening, shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer accused the PM of ‘trying to bounce MPs into signing off a Bill that could cause huge damage to our country’.
Independent Group for Change MP Chris Leslie said the Government was ‘ramming through’ the Bill.
He said: ‘We know for example that Commons committee stage of the Treaty of Rome was not three days, or two days, it was 22 days.
‘For the Maastricht Treaty, 23 days in committee stage. The Treaty of Lisbon 11 days. Treaty of Amsterdam five days.
‘Then the Single European Act four days and then the smallest of them all the Treaty of Nice three days at committee, so in total five days of Commons consideration for the Treaty of Nice to be reformed.
‘This is an unprecedentedly short period of time to dedicate to a massive and momentous piece of legislation.’
He added: ‘This motion that we are now debating, (is) the first in a series of attempts by the Government to stage what is essentially the ramming through of a piece of legislation, in I regard a disorderly way.’
Boris Johnson’s crunch 72 hours: MPs set to vote on Brexit deal for first time TONIGHT – but even if the PM wins he faces a massive battle to stick to his ‘do or die’ October 31 vow
Boris Johnson faces two crunch votes in the House of Commons this evening as he tries to keep alive his pledge to deliver Brexit by October 31.
The first will see MPs asked to back the Prime Minister’s new divorce deal as they vote on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill – the legislation that will put the accord into law and make Brexit happen on Halloween.
The second will see MPs asked to agree to Mr Johnson’s plan to crash the 110-page document through the Commons in just three days.
The PM’s chances of winning the first vote are increasing but there is growing opposition to the government’s proposed timetable for agreeing the Bill.
Mr Johnson threw down the gauntlet to MPs this afternoon as he said that if they reject fast-tracking the WAB and the EU then offer to delay Brexit to January next year he will pull his deal and push for an election instead.
The PM’s comments set this evening’s two votes up as a potentially make-or-break moment for his premiership.
But even if his draft accord is able to survive tonight, the government will then have to successfully navigate three days of attempts by rebel MPs to change the PM’s deal.
If the agreement can make it through that without any major changes, it will then head to the Remain-heavy House of Lords before a final showdown vote in the European Parliament.
Below is an analysis of all of the potential flashpoints which the PM will have to overcome in order to take the UK out of the EU in an orderly fashion on October 31.
The second reading vote on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill
At 7pm this evening the House of Commons will vote for the first time on the terms of Mr Johnson’s proposed divorce deal.
MPs will be asked to give a second reading to the WAB – the first proper hurdle any legislation going through the Commons must clear.
Jeremy Corbyn will whip his MPs to vote against it, as will the DUP, the Lib Dems and the Scottish Nationalists.
Boris Johnson, pictured in Downing Street on October 15, will today ask 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
If MPs vote for the Withdrawal Agreement Bill at second reading the government will then try to win a vote on crashing the Bill through the Commons in just three days. Former Tory MP Ed Vaizey is one of many who could oppose the timetable
But Number 10 believes it has won back almost all the hardline Brexiteers who killed off Theresa May’s deal as well as Tory Remain rebels, and has enough votes from Labour leavers and independents to get it over the line.
If the vote is lost, the deal is effectively dead and with it any hope of getting out of the EU by the end of the month.
Programme motion: The vote on how much time MPs should spend debating the WAB
Immediately after the second reading vote, assuming the PM wins, MPs will then be asked to vote on the timetable for the passage of the Brexit legislation.
This vote is potentially even more important than the vote on the deal itself because if MPs reject the government’s timetable then the PM’s hopes of delivering Brexit by October 31 will be in serious peril.
Ministers will try their utmost to drive the Bill through in time for October 31, and want the Commons stages completed by Thursday.
They are proposing two midnight sittings today and tomorrow to get the bulk of the work done.
But opposition MPs – and some Tory rebels – will demand more time for debate.
If they reject the government’s so-called ‘programme motion’, Mr Johnson made clear this afternoon that he intended to pull the Bill and push for a general election.
He told MPs in the Commons: ‘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.
‘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 Johnson’s comments do appear to leave the door open to the possibility of a short delay if it was necessary to get his deal over the line.
The possibility of the EU offering a Brexit delay
Mr Johnson was forced to comply with the anti-No Deal Benn Act and asked the EU for a Brexit delay at the weekend.
Brussels is keeping its powder dry on what it will do next until MPs have actually voted on the premier’s divorce deal.
If Mr Johnson secures the backing of MPs for his deal this evening and the Commons then agrees to his timetable the EU is unlikely to offer a delay because it will still be possible to hit the October 31 departure date.
But if the deal is voted down – the vote is expected to be very tight – or if the deal is agreed but the timetable is rejected then the EU will almost certainly offer a Brexit delay even though Mr Johnson has told the bloc he does not want one.
Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, made clear the EU would likely offer an extension in such circumstances this morning as he tweeted: ‘A No Deal Brexit will never be our decision.’
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
MPs hijacking the WAB
Assuming the Withdrawal Agreement Bill is given its second reading tonight it will then immediately move onto its committee stage – the bit in the legislative process when MPs can table amendments.
There will be lots of amendments brought forward by MPs in a bid to change the PM’s divorce deal.
But Number 10 will 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, the vote will hinge on the actions of the DUP, SNP and Labour leavers.
The second referendum amendment is 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 passes, Mr Johnson will 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
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
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
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
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 will 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 and that could risk the October 31 deadline not being met.
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.