Archive for the ‘British politics’ Category

Blow for Boris Johnson as MPs reject his Brexit timetable

LONDON — MPs dealt a fresh blow to Boris Johnson as they voted against his breakneck timetable to pass Brexit legislation.

The House of Commons voted by 308 to 322 to reject his plan to pass the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, which turns Johnson’s Brexit deal agreed with Brussels into U.K. law, in just three days, despite voting to support the deal as a whole just moments before.

Reacting to the vote, Johnson said he would pause the passage of the bill, reversing a statement he had made in the debate preceding the vote that if his timetable was rejected  he would pull the bill entirely and pursue a general election.

The defeat means Johnson will have to accept a delay if one is offered by the European Union. He will also miss his self-imposed deadline of taking the U.K. out of the bloc on October 31.

After the pair of votes Johnson said: “I congratulate honorable members across the house on the scale of our collective achievement … Certainly nobody thought that we could secure the approval of the house for a deal.”

But he added: “I must express my disappointment that the house has again voted for delay.”

“We now face further uncertainty and the EU now make up their minds over how to answer parliament’s request for a delay … I will speak to EU members states about their intentions,” he said referring to the decision that the European Council must now make over whether to grant another delay, and if so for how long. “Until they have reached a decision we will pause this legislation.”

Johnson is likely to push for an election before Christmas. But he would need opposition MPs to back a vote, either in a motion in the Commons or through a no-confidence vote in his government.

MPs rejected the three-day timetable despite a majority backing the deal in a Commons vote immediately beforehand. Too many thought three days was not enough time to scrutinize the bill, which runs to more than 100 pages.

MPs back Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal — so far

LONDON — Boris Johnson won the support of the House of Commons for his Brexit deal tonight — but now faces a number of further votes that could derail his plan, the first in a matter of minutes.

MPs passed the Withdrawal Agreement Bill at its second reading by 329 to 299, handing the U.K. prime minister a victory that was never achieved by Theresa May.

However, MPs are now voting on the so-called program motion, which dictates the timetable for the further legislative stages of the bill, which turns the deal into U.K. law, and they are expected to reject the three-day plan proposed by Johnson.

Even if he wins both votes today, MPs could still sink his Brexit plan later in the week by attaching amendments to it that radically change the deal and would likely derail it altogether.

Opposition MPs and a number of former Conservatives argued the breakneck agenda would not allow enough time for full scrutiny of the bill.

Johnson told the Commons earlier on Tuesday that he would ditch the bill and refuse to put forward another timetable if the program motion gets voted down. He said he would push for an election instead.

“I will in no way allow months more of this,” he told MPs.

“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. And with great regret, I must say that the bill will have to be pulled and we will have to go forward … to a general election.”

A Downing Street official confirmed that the government will pull the bill if MPs vote the timetable down and the EU accepts the delay that Johnson requested on Saturday night.

Johnson will push for an election before Christmas. But he would need opposition MPs to back a vote, either in a motion in the Commons or through a no-confidence vote in his government.

Brexit is no laughing matter. No, Brexit is hysterical.

Why cry over Brexit when there are so many reasons to laugh about it?

Remainers and remoaners, leavers and grievers — nearly all have been groaners at some point in the Brexit saga. But the latest paralysis in Westminster is spawning its own particular brand of dark Brexit humor.

POLITICO has compiled an assortment for your tortured amusement.

Julian Popov of the European Climate Foundation looked for an extension far into the future.

Coming soon to a bookstore near you, or pre-order on Amazon.

Meanwhile, who says Eurocrats can’t be funny. From the comedians at DG MEME, a Brexit epilogue.

POLITICO sources in London say Boris Johnson finally conceded on a customs border in the Irish Sea, making a deal possible, after watching this video by the, er, Backstop Boys.

Ian Dunt, the editor of, is fed up with Brexit, but not for the usual reasons.

Boris Johnson’s last-ditch push for Brexit deal

LONDON — Boris Johnson will finally get a vote on his Brexit deal Tuesday — but that doesn’t mean he’s home and dry.

After two false starts in which the British prime minister was thwarted in his attempts to demonstrate MPs back his exit agreement, the House of Commons will vote on the deal Johnson brought back from Brussels last week, as his government attempts to push legislation required to turn the agreement into U.K. law through the entire parliamentary process in just a matter of days.

The ambitious timetable — which would see an initial vote on the legislation on Tuesday night with the Commons process wrapped by Thursday when the bill then passes to the House of Lords — leaves little time for scrutiny as Johnson strives to meet his self-imposed deadline of delivering Brexit by October 31.

Several hurdles stand in his way: First, MPs could refuse to back the bill itself on Tuesday. They could also oppose the unusually short timetable, with a vote on that planned for later the same day.

Even if Johnson wins both of Tuesday’s votes, MPs could then attempt to attach amendments to the bill, with opponents signaling either a second referendum or a requirement to stay in the EU’s customs union might gather support from a majority in the Commons. Either would wreck Johnson’s plan and instead renew the government’s push for a general election.

“I hope parliament today 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,” Johnson will tell MPs ahead of Tuesday’s vote, according to a press briefing.

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

The Labour Party’s Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer told MPs on Monday that the government was “trying to bounce MPs into signing off a bill that could cause huge damage.”

“The truth is Boris Johnson knows that the more time people have to read the small print of his deal, the more it will be exposed for the risks it represents to our economy and communities across the country,” he said.

The Scottish National Party’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, echoed the sentiment, saying it was “an insult to democracy that the Tory government is trying to push this bill through on limited time.”

For now, the EU is holding its breath, but if word comes that leaders in Brussels will grant an extension to negotiations, opposition MPs will see little incentive to stick to Johnson’s timetable.

Downing Street plan

Downing Street officials are still hopeful they will get the numbers to push the deal through.

Michael Gove, the minister in charge of no-deal preparations, said Sunday that he could “guarantee” Brexit would be done in time. “We have the means and the ability to do so,” he told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge.

On Monday, he attempted to drive home the consequences of failure, announcing to MPs that he had triggered Operation Yellowhammer, the government’s no-deal contingency plan, and officials would now meet seven days a week to discuss no-deal preparations.

Johnson has the support of most of the hardline Brexiteers in his own Conservative Party, including Steve Baker, Owen Paterson and Anne Marie Morris. He also has secured the votes of several Labour MPs, including Melanie Onn, Gareth Snell and Sarah Champion. None of them voted for former Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal, which was defeated by 58 votes on the third attempt.

But like May, Johnson is missing the support of the Conservative Party’s informal partners in government, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

The DUP has been resolute in its opposition to the deal, because it says it creates a divergence in rules and regulations between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.

In a House of Lords committee hearing on Monday afternoon, a slip-up by the Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay was a gift to those making this point.

Asked whether Northern Irish businesses would have to fill out customs declarations when sending goods to Great Britain, Barclay initially replied: “We’ve said in terms of [trade] from NI to GB that it will be frictionless, and so there wouldn’t be [declaration forms].”

But a few minutes later, he interrupted the hearing to read out a correction: “The exit summary declarations will be required in terms of NI to GB.”

Exit summary declarations are required when goods leave the EU’s customs territory. The implication is that the exporters in Northern Ireland would have to complete paperwork in order to sell goods within their own country, the U.K.

The DUP’s Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson did not pull his punches. “Clear breach of U.K. government commitment in Joint Report of 2017 [negotiated by May] to allow unfettered access to GB market for NI businesses,” he tweeted. “How can any Conservative & Unionist MP argue this does not represent a border in the Irish Sea?!”

The slip-up served to demonstrate the complexity of what MPs must consider in the starkest of ways: the U.K.’s own Brexit secretary could not accurately recall the details of the deal’s implications.

Throughout the day Monday, MPs and peers expressed serious concerns at being asked to rush through such a momentous piece of legislation. Barclay’s response was that they would have time to scrutinize it during the Brexit transition period — after it had passed.

One day at a time

Even if the bill survives its first Commons vote with a narrow majority, it could yet be sunk on Wednesday.

Any majority that exists for the proposal is fragile, made up of disparate factions of MPs, who only agree that some form of Brexit should occur.

Once amendments can be proposed to the legislation on Wednesday, the government faces the threat of a customs union or even a second referendum being appended to the deal.

Gloria De Piero, a Labour MP who has expressed her intention to vote for a deal and announced she is standing down at the next election, has tweeted that she will be backing a customs union amendment.

When MPs held non-binding indicative votes in April on a series of possible Brexit outcomes, a customs union came the closest to getting a majority in the Commons. It was defeated by just three votes — 276 to 273 — with a number of abstentions.

Those who voted in favor of a customs union included most of the parliamentary Labour party, as well as 36 Tories — several of whom have since been expelled from the party, such as Ken Clarke, Alistair Burt, Margot James, Anne Milton, Oliver Letwin, and Stephen Hammond. The Liberal Democrats’ Norman Lamb also backed the idea in the indicative vote.

Brexit deal legislation published by UK government

LONDON — The U.K. government has today published the text of its Withdrawal Agreement Bill — the legislation needed to turn the deal reached with the European Union into U.K. law.

The 115-page bill will get its second reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday, when MPs will debate and vote on the bill.

Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg announced earlier today that he wants the bill to pass the House of Commons by Thursday, but he must still secure the backing of MPs for the so-called “programme motion” setting out that timetable.

As it stands, the bill — known as the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill — attempts to repeal the need for a separate “meaningful vote” on the legislation, which was required in the EU (Withdrawal) Act passed in 2018.

The government claims in explanatory notes it is “no long needed” and will “ensure that the Withdrawal Agreement can be ratified in a timely and orderly manner.”

Brexit options: Extension, flextension or just more tension

Boris Johnson’s Brexit extension letters are in, but Brussels is in no hurry to respond.

With Westminster still very much in a political fog, the EU27 are biding their time before replying to the U.K. government’s (reluctant) request to extend the deadline for Britain’s departure beyond October 31.

If Johnson can get the deal through parliament, along with the necessary domestic legislation, in time for a Halloween exit, then the EU may not need to make a decision at all. But that looks difficult for the prime minister to pull off.

On Monday, it was Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva’s turn to sum up Brussels’ attitude. “It is first and foremost for the U.K to explain the next steps,” she said. “We from our side will of course follow all the events in London this week very closely,” Andreeva said during the usual midday press briefing before stressing that “the ratification process has been launched on the EU side.”

The decision on a delay ultimately lies with EU27 national leaders. European Council President Donald Tusk is consulting those leaders this week to sound them out.

Here’s POLITICO’s guide to their options:

No extension

Pros: Big companies have mostly made preparations for a no-deal Brexit but for small and medium-sized enterprises it would be very hard. Yet some diplomats, including those from Belgium, have often argued that uncertainty also comes with a high cost and that, in many scenarios, saying no to a further extension would at least provide clarity. “The worst of Brexit, for me, is not even no deal. It’s the uncertainty being prolonged,” France’s European affairs minister, Amélie de Montchalin, said Monday.

Cons: Experts have long warned of chaos and potential economic calamity in the event the U.K. crashes out without a deal.

“We would have never the courage for a no-deal,” a diplomat said, summing up a common feeling in Brussels. Brexit is seen as a serious problem mainly by countries near the U.K., which are also those that would pay the highest price for a no-deal. With Germany heading into recession, and the International Monetary Fund warning against the risk of an intensification of trade tensions between the U.S. and China, the appetite for a no deal is very low.

Delay of a few weeks

Pros: A short, technical extension could be sold as not materially delaying Brexit while avoiding no deal — but at the same time it might not be sufficient to resolve all of the uncertainty still swirling in London, especially if British politics comes up with any new surprises. A further delay of “a few days or a few weeks” in order to avoid a no-deal Brexit would not be a problem, said German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier Monday.

European Council President Donald Tusk with Johnson in August | Pool photo by Andrew Parsons/Getty Images

A short extension of just a few weeks would be most useful in case the ratification process in the U.K needs a bit more time for technical rather than political reasons. EU diplomats say that an extension granted only for technical reasons could be agreed without the need to summon EU leaders to Brussels for another summit.

Cons: The key question is whether a short extension would really be long enough to accomplish anything, or if EU27 leaders will have to come back and extend their extension once again? This is the nightmare scenario envisioned by leaders who are eager to move on to other things, and who believe the EU has already wasted enough time and resources on Brexit.

January 31

Pros: A delay until the end of January is probably the easiest option. This is the date specified by the Benn Act (the legislation that has compelled Johnson’s government to put in the extension request), so EU leaders can say they are simply complying with an ask from the British parliament.

It’s also the surest way to prove that the EU is not interfering in the U.K.’s internal political debates. “The EU will first and foremost want to isolate itself from the … process and avoid coming in on one of the sides in the debate,” an EU diplomat said. “So I assume we’ll respond in kind to what is asked.”

Cons: After all the tumult of Brexit, giving the Brits what they want could be seen as a dangerous and undesirable precedent.

A January 31 deadline could also prove not long enough — especially if a U.K. national election or a second referendum is needed. A major NATO leaders’ summit is scheduled to take place in London in early December, limiting the time for an election before the Christmas holiday. And even if Britain can squeeze in an election, the new government would only have a few weeks in office and may not be ready to provide further clarity to Brussels. It would not be possible to hold a referendum by the January date.

December 31, 2020

Pros: Pushing the new Brexit deadline all the way to the end of the transition period envisioned in the Withdrawal Agreement could be a winning compromise between the Brexit hawks and doves, some diplomats say.

The EU27 would essentially be saying that they are setting aside Brexit until London makes a decision — and that it is up to the U.K. to use the time either as a transition period or merely to reach a decision on the divorce decree.

Johnson and President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker | Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images

Cons: At the April EU summit, French President Emmanuel Macron pushed for a short extension and it seems unlikely he would agree to such a long one now. Also, this scenario could keep everyone in limbo and still leave a risk that the U.K. crashes out without a deal if, say, an even harder-line Tory government takes office. Also, the EU needs to negotiate its next long-term budget, and having certainty sooner would help those negotiations.

As with all the other options, “everything depends on the developments in the U.K and the reason for the extension,” one diplomat argued. “If it’s for the completion of the ratification process, then it makes sense. But if there are further complications [elections, referendum etc], we’ll have to discuss,” the diplomat said.

Flextension with an end date

Pros: This would involve setting a fixed date, at any point up to December 31, 2020, but allowing the U.K. to leave whenever it is ready.

Some call this the “have your cake and eat it” solution, yet it could provide the best of all worlds. Some diplomats are skeptical because they see it mainly as a British idea. “They are flying a kite,” as one diplomat put it.

Other EU officials take a different view and point out the current October 31 deadline is already a kind of “flextension.” EU leaders wrote when it was agreed that “if the Withdrawal Agreement is ratified by both parties before this date, the withdrawal will take place on the first day of the following month.”

Cons: The uncertainty would continue and the U.K. would retain near total control of events.

John Bercow disallows second vote on Brexit deal

LONDON — House of Commons Speaker John Bercow said he would not allow a vote on Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal Monday.

Bercow invoked a parliamentary convention, dating back to 1604, that says the same question cannot be put to MPs more than once within the same parliamentary session.

“It is clear that the motions are in substance the same, however this matter was decided fewer than 49 hours ago,” Bercow told MPs. “It is hard to see a significant change of circumstances that would warrant a reconsideration on the next sitting day.”

Bercow’s decision prevents the U.K. government from holding an indicative vote to demonstrate support for its Brexit deal.

Instead, the government will on Tuesday present the Withdrawal Agreement Bill — needed to turn the Brexit deal into law — for its second reading (the first is a formality).

This will be the first opportunity for MPs to debate the main elements of the deal and their first vote on the legislation. No amendments can be proposed at this stage, except so-called “reasoned amendments” seeking to vote down the whole bill and providing reasons for doing so.

Bercow said this course of action was allowed under parliamentary rules.

If MPs back the bill on Tuesday, then amendments can be proposed later in the legislative process and so there is no guarantee after this first vote that the bill will pass through parliament without conditions attached. Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer has said Labour would put forward amendments for the U.K. to remain in the EU customs union and for a referendum to be attached to Johnson’s deal.

Bercow ruled last March that the same parliamentary convention prevented Theresa May from asking MPs to vote on her Brexit deal for the third time. Instead, May decided to separate the two parts of the agreement she had struck with Brussels and asked MPs to vote twice on March 29, first on her Withdrawal Agreement and then on the Political Declaration that sets out how both sides see the future relationship between the U.K. and the EU but is not legally binding.

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