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.
Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, tweeted that he would recommend the EU’s 27 member states accept Britain’s request for an extension.
But Mr Johnson 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 tumultuous 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
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.’
Mr Tusk tweeted: ‘Following PM 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.’
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, Mr Tusk 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
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
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
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 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.