Boris Johnson has been forced to ask for a Brexit delay after members of parliament inflicted yet another defeat on his government.
In a historic “super Saturday” sitting ― not seen since 1982 ― the House of Commons voted by 322 to 306 to compel the prime minister to write to Brussels to extend the UK’s membership of the European Union from October 31 to January of next year.
The vote means that Johnson’s “do-or-die” Halloween deadline can now be breached if Brexit legislation is not passed in the next two weeks.
Parliament backed an amendment by Tory grandee Sir Oliver Letwin which delays Johnson’s plan for a straight “yes” or “no” vote on his EU divorce proposals.
But after the vote, Johnson vowed to defy parliament, insisting: “I will not negotiate a delay with the EU and neither does the law compel me to do so.”
“I will tell our friends and colleagues in the EU exactly what I’ve told everyone in the last 88 days that I’ve served as prime minister ― that further delay will the bad for this country, bad for our European Union and bad for democracy,” he stated.
It sets up a fresh parliamentary showdown next Tuesday, when the government is expected to bring forward its Withdrawal Agreement Bill to enact the deal Johnson struck with Brussels.
Downing Street sources were withering about the new delay, but Letwin and other members insisted that his new safeguard would actually make it more likely that parliament could now approve his deal.
In line with British law, Johnson will now have until 11pm on Saturday night to send a letter to the EU requesting an extension of the UK’s EU membership to January 31, 2020.
HuffPost UK understands that allies of Johnson are expecting the EU to grant only a short extension, probably a couple of weeks, in order to help the deal get through the Commons and avoid a general election or second referendum.
Earlier, Johnson signaled that he would indeed comply with the law, however with a strong hint that he would also possibly send another message to Brussels that he wanted any delay to be as short as possible.
“I must tell the House again in all candor that whatever letters they may seek to enforce, seek to force the government to write, it cannot change my judgement that further delay is pointless, expensive and deeply corrosive of public trust,” he said.
Johnson made a direct pitch for the backing of Labour MPs in areas that backed Brexit, but although a handful gave their support many decided that the Letwin move to categorically rule out a no-deal Brexit was needed.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said his MPs would “not be duped” into believing Tory “empty promises” on workers’ rights and the environment.
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