Posts Tagged ‘elections’

Brexit limbo strikes again

LONDON — Britain, and Boris Johnson, have once again put themselves in Brexit limbo.

The U.K. prime minister was afforded 20 minutes of joy Tuesday when his Brexit deal was backed by a majority of MPs in the House of Commons — a feat never achieved by Theresa May.

But victory was quickly followed by defeat on a second vote, which considered the proposed three-day timetable for the Commons to debate the legislation required to write the deal into law. That defeat, inflicted by MPs who wanted more time, stops the passage of the bill in its tracks.

For the first time in more than three years since the U.K. voted to leave the European Union, a majority of British MPs accepted an exit plan, a boost for Johnson who had faced some skepticism in Brussels that he had the support of the House of Commons. However, he will now miss his self-imposed deadline of delivering Brexit by October 31 and must rely on EU leaders to grant a delay.

The votes came just days after MPs refused to back the deal Johnson brought back from Brussels in order to trigger a deadline written into U.K. law which, once passed, forced the prime minister to ask the EU for more time. Despite his reluctance to break his promise and delay, Johnson’s focus now switches to pushing through his deal with as short a pause as possible.

“I must express my disappointment that the House has again voted for delay” — Boris Johnson, U.K. prime minister

European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted that “in order to avoid a no-deal #Brexit” he would push urgently for the EU27 to grant the U.K.’s request for an extension, which would set a new January 31 deadline, while allowing the U.K. to leave earlier if it ratifies the existing agreement.

“For this I will propose a written procedure,” Tusk wrote.

For a few brief moments, Johnson was exuberant.

“Can I say in response how welcome it is, even joyful that for the first time in this long saga, this House has actually accepted its responsibilities together, come together, and embraced a deal?” the prime minister gushed in the wake of the results.

But he added: “I must express my disappointment that the House has again voted for delay rather than a timetable that would have guaranteed that the U.K. would be in a position to 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.”

Over to Brussels

A spokesman for the prime minister said the government will be looking for a response from the EU while the legislation is paused.

Another official insisted parliament “blew its last chance” with the votes on Tuesday, adding: “If parliament’s delay is agreed by Brussels, then the only way the country can move on is with an election. This parliament is broken. The public will have to choose whether they want to get Brexit done with Boris or whether they want to spend 2020 having two referendums on Brexit and Scotland with [Labour leader Jeremy] Corbyn.”

EU leaders had tentatively planned to wait until the end of this week, or perhaps into next week, to watch the unfolding developments in London. But Johnson’s decision to halt the legislative process quickly rewrote their scripts.

Senior officials said EU27 diplomats would meet on Wednesday in Brussels, to move forward with approval of the extension request, which Johnson sent in writing on Saturday night but made clear he was doing only out of obligation to the law.

The decision to move forward with a written procedure indicated that Tusk views the postponement of the deadline as largely a technical delay, thereby not requiring another summit of EU leaders to meet face-to-face to personally sort through the political implications.

However, there appeared to be a real risk that Tusk will face push-back, particularly from French President Emmanuel Macron, who has signaled loudly in recent days that he wanted the U.K. to respect the October 31 deadline.

“It is up to the British parliament to examine the Withdrawal Agreement as soon as possible. We will see at the end of the week if a purely technical extension of a few days is necessary, to finish this parliamentary procedure,” an Elysee official said Tuesday night after Tusk’s announcement. “But outside these circumstances, an extension to buy time or to discuss the agreement again is excluded. We have reached a deal, and now it must be implemented without delay.”

EU diplomats reacted with disappointment to the developments in Westminster, which they said could somehow drag Brussels back into the U.K.’s own internal political disputes by potentially tying the ratification process in the House of Commons to the EU decision on a potential extension.

European Council President Donald Tusk | Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images

“Johnson paused the legislative process on the Withdrawal Agreement and pledged to still leave with the current deal,” a senior diplomat said. “Now as I see it, this is either blame game to a whole new level, or forcing Council to give a short extension with the condition that the Withdrawal Agreement remains intact.”

The senior diplomat added: “The tables have turned again.”

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar welcomed the support for the deal in the Commons, adding: “We will now await further developments from London and Brussels about next steps, including a timetable for the legislation and the need for an extension.”

How the votes fell

Johnson managed to get his deal through on a majority of 329 to 299 by winning the votes of Labour rebels who defied their party leadership in the hope of getting Brexit done. A total of 19 Labour MPs backed the bill, including two shadow ministers: Jo Platt and Laura Smith.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had made clear in the Commons earlier in the day that his backbench MPs would not be punished for rebelling, but the party failed to clarify whether or not the frontbenchers would be sacked.

In the wake of the votes, Corbyn insisted the Commons had “emphatically rejected” the deal and had “refused to be bounced into debating a hugely significant piece of legislation in just two days.”

He added: “The prime minister is the author of his own misfortune. So I make this offer to him tonight: Work with all of us to agree a reasonable timetable, and I suspect this House will vote to debate, scrutinize — and I hope amend — the detail of this bill.”

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn | Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

On the timetable motion, just five Labour MPs voted for it, while three abstained.

Johnson also won the backing of a number of the former Tory MPs who were kicked out of the parliamentary party for refusing to back the prime minister last month, in part because in the last moments of the debate, the government agreed to give the Commons a vote on extending the transition period if no free-trade deal has been agreed with the EU by December 2020. This removes a second possible cliff-edge, which some MPs fear could leave the U.K. cut off from its largest trading bloc a year after its formal exit from the EU.

But once more it was the actions of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party that did for Johnson, as his decision to cut them loose over their demands on the Brexit deal came back to bite him again.

The party voted against his proposed timetable, which was rejected by 322 votes to 308 — meaning its 10 votes would have been decisive.

Sammy Wilson, the DUP’s Brexit spokesman | Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

The party’s Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson told Johnson in the Commons on Tuesday: “What I cannot take is a prime minister who thinks that I cannot read the agreement that has been published, and who thinks that I cannot see in that agreement what the impact on Northern Ireland will be.”

The Commons will return to its regular business Wednesday, with the penultimate day of debate on the queen’s speech — the legislative program which Johnson is also expected to lose the crucial vote on. What happens next to the Brexit bill is unclear.

Leader of the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg put it best when he told MPs: “Theologically speaking, Benedict XVI abolished limbo, so I do wonder whether the bill is not in the heaven of having been passed, not in the hell of having failed, but it is in purgatory, where it is suffering the pains of those in purgatory.”

Rym Momtaz and Jacopo Barigazzi contributed reporting.

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium Brexit service for professionals: Brexit Pro. To test our expert policy coverage of the implications and next steps per industry, email [email protected] for a complimentary trial.

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.

Boris Johnson will pull Brexit bill if MPs don’t back his timetable for leaving EU

LONDON — Boris Johnson will rip up his plans to force through Brexit legislation and will instead demand an immediate election if MPs reject his proposed timetable and the EU accepts a delay.

The U.K. prime minister said that if MPs reject his plan to push the Withdrawal Agreement Bill through the House of Commons in just three days, “in no circumstances can the government continue with this.”

The Commons is due to vote on the proposed timetable tonight after an initial vote on the whole bill. It is believed that Johnson could win the first vote but lose the second, because MPs want more time to scrutinize it.

But Johnson told the Commons this afternoon: “I will in no way allow months more of this.”

He added: “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 vote for it, either in a motion in the Commons or through a no-confidence vote.

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.

EU should grant longer extension if UK holds election or referendum: German minister

BERLIN — If the U.K. decides to hold an election or a second Brexit referendum, EU member states should grant a longer extension, German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said.

Asked on Deutschlandfunk radio Monday morning whether the EU could grant a longer delay than the three-month extension requested by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday, Altmaier said: “If the Brits were to opt for one of the longer-term options, meaning new elections or a new referendum, then for me it goes without saying that the European Union should take that into account.”

He also said that he has no issue with an extension of “a few days or a few weeks” in order to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

Johnson is expected to attempt to push the new Withdrawal Agreement through the House of Commons this week after MPs withheld support this weekend, forcing him to ask for an extension of the Brexit date from October 31 to January 31, a request currently being mulled in EU capitals.

Altmaier added that the EU would need “clarity” soon, saying: “At the moment, the most difficult thing is that we do not know who actually speaks for the country: the government or the elected parliament.”

His comments come as Germany’s economy dips, sparking fears that a no-deal Brexit could help tip the country into a recession.

“I have always argued that the most important thing is that there is no disorderly exit now, because that could lead to further problems for exports and jobs in an already difficult economic environment,” said Altmaier.

Meanwhile, Norbert Röttgen, the chair of the Bundestag’s foreign affairs committee, expressed support for a longer extension, tweeting that member states “should now grant a final long [extension], giving the U.K. time to sort itself out & to prepare for all possible resolutions including a #SecondReferendum.”

EU27 ponder how to deal with UK request for Brexit delay

EU27 leaders are considering Boris Johnson’s Brexit delay request and how to turn it to their own maximum advantage — though some are wondering if there’s any advantage left to gain.

After the British parliament withheld approval on the new Brexit deal clinched Thursday with the EU, forcing the prime minister to ask for a short extension, Johnson on Saturday night complied and sent Brussels a request to delay the October 31 deadline until January 31, 2020.

Johnson also sent a second letter to European Council President Donald Tusk, addressing him personally and by first name, to make clear that he is not happy about having been obliged to send the first letter, which he didn’t sign.

“A further extension would damage the interests of the U.K. and our EU partners, and damage the relationship between us,” Johnson wrote. “We must bring this process to a conclusion.”

The three letters — there was also a cover letter by U.K. Ambassador to the EU Tim Barrow — don’t change the legal bottom line as far as the EU27 are concerned.

Tusk accepted the first pro forma missive as a request for an extension and immediately said he would begin consultations with EU27 leaders about how they wish to proceed.

Some EU officials and diplomats said that they expect leaders to move slowly.

EU ambassadors met briefly in Brussels Sunday morning for a session to take stock of the new circumstances following Saturday’s developments in Westminster.

While ambassadors took note of the extension request, and agreed that Tusk should proceed with consultations, they did not engage in any substantive discussion on the U.K.’s request or the potential length of a delay, one diplomat said. They left with the expectation of meeting again later this week.

There was no immediate decision other than to wait for further developments in London and to initiate procedural steps for the new Brexit deal to be approved legally and sent to the European Parliament for ratification.

In the U.K., the second letter prompted some furious reaction from Johnson’s political opponents, who said that he was acting to undermine the law. Some suggested legal action could be taken against him should he appear to be advocating for EU27 leaders to deny the extension request.

Next steps

Legal or not — in reality, such lobbying would have little impact in Brussels.

The EU27, anticipating further ratification difficulties in London, were already calculating how best to use the continuing British political chaos to their best advantage — mainly by using it to further convince the British public that Brussels has never obstructed the U.K.’s departure and is not responsible for the delay.

Beyond cementing EU victory in the so-called blame game, diplomat and officials said EU leaders’ main goal has not changed: to do everything possible to eliminate any risk that the U.K. would leave in a chaotic and economically disastrous no-deal scenario. They also don’t want to be drawn into the middle of the domestic political fight in the U.K.

Some EU officials and diplomats said that they expect leaders to move slowly, given that there are still 11 days until the October 31 deadline and that events in Westminster — very much outside of the EU’s control — could make the extension request irrelevant.

Johnson has made clear he wants to move forward with legislation needed for the U.K. to depart on October 31, and is hoping to soon hold a so-called meaningful vote on the Withdrawal Agreement, perhaps on Tuesday.

“We have time,” one EU diplomat said.

After Sunday morning’s meeting, another diplomat said: “The EU decision regarding the next steps will be taken after the clarification of the situation in the British parliament.”

Officials are grappling with the hole in the budget that will be left by the U.K.’s departure.

While some EU27 leaders, notably French President Emmanuel Macron, have expressed frustration with British dithering and urged that the October 31 deadline be respected, any overt pressure, including threats of refusing to grant an extension, would risk alienating Johnson’s opponents, including members of the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats who oppose Brexit, not to mention avidly pro-EU forces like the Scottish National Party.

One key factor that has changed from the previous two extension requests is that the forces pushing for delay in London are not opposed to the current Brexit deal as much as they seem to want to prevent Brexit altogether, or at least to force either a national election or another referendum allowing the British public a say on the new Withdrawal Agreement.

But while some EU leaders have said they are still hoping Brexit doesn’t happen — notably Tusk who said Thursday “in my heart I will always be a Remainer” — a reversal is not necessarily as appealing for Brussels as it might seem.

If Brexit is stopped but British society remains deeply divided, with a large segment of the population opposing the EU, the U.K.’s continued membership could prove deeply problematic as British officials constantly calibrate their decision-making to take account of the domestic mood.

Even without the U.K.’s current active participation, some EU officials are frustrated that the bloc, which must approve most policy initiatives unanimously, cannot act quickly or decisively enough.

Length of delay

If EU27 leaders find themselves nearing October 31 and London is still deadlocked, they have a range of options. While Johnson’s letter followed the law in requesting a delay until the end of January, the EU27 are under no obligation to agree to that specific date.

A shorter extension is possible, but could be seen as pressuring the U.K. parliament to ratify the current deal — as there is widespread agreement that a British election could not be organized until December at the earliest. A short extension, however, could potentially be more appealing to leaders like Macron who have expressed impatience.

Opting for the January 31 date would leave open the possibility of a new vote in Britain, and has another advantage in that it would clearly not require any further negotiation or consultation with the U.K. It would also show the EU is not meddling by giving London no more or less than what it requested.

Another possibility is that the EU could extend the deadline much further, closer to December 31, 2020 — currently the end date of the transition period called for in the Withdrawal Agreement.

While that would make Brexit very much London’s problem, there are practical obstacles to a long delay — particularly the EU’s need to push forward with negotiations on its next long-term budget.

It’s not clear that Tusk will indeed convene another leaders’ gathering.

Officials are grappling with the hole in the budget that will be left by the U.K.’s departure, and continuing uncertainty would further complicate what is an already excruciatingly difficult process.

In his second letter, Johnson graciously offered to come to Brussels for an additional European Council before the October 31 deadline and apologized to Tusk that the Brexit matter was dragging on.

“If it would be helpful to you, of course I would be happy to attend,” he wrote.

But it’s not clear that Tusk will indeed convene another leaders’ gathering. While normally leaders would prefer to gather around the table to discuss such a big decision in person, if a clear consensus emerges, there are legal mechanisms by which the EU could approve the delay through a written procedure.

The European Commission, which led the negotiations for the EU side, said it is awaiting further word from London. “It will be for the UK government to inform us about the next steps as soon as possible,” the Commission’s chief spokeswoman, Mina Andreeva, said Saturday in a statement after the extension request was sent.

She did not say if the clock is still ticking.

Anca Gurzu contributed reporting. 

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