The United Kingdom’s parliament is poised for another feverish week after MPs on Saturday stopped Prime Minister Boris Johnson putting forward a “meaningful” yes/no vote on his Brexit deal until he publishes it as a bill.
Johnson wants a vote to secure backing for his deal on Monday, even though concern at his bid to rush the bill through parliament was at the heart of Saturday’s defeat.
The government will put Commons Speaker John Bercow under pressure to permit a “meaningful vote” – but Bercow’s past form suggests he may resist. Bercow’s decision, according to UK media reports, should be known by the late afternoon on Monday.
Whether or not the meaningful vote takes place, Johnson will propose the withdrawal agreement bill this week, with a second “reading vote” expected on Tuesday.
Although the prime minister believes he has enough support to pass his deal, opposition MPs plan radical amendments – potentially dragging out the debate.
The Labour Party wants any deal to be contingent on a referendum and the UK to join the EU customs union.
Donald Tusk, the European Council president, formally accepted Johnson’s letter requesting an extension on Saturday night and is consulting member states.
Johnson’s agreement has been sent to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, but MEPs will only ratify it after it has been approved by the UK parliament – meaning the earliest they could do so would probably be on Thursday.
If not, they will next gather in November suggesting that, regardless of any deal, Brexit could not take place until after the October 31 deadline that Johnson has pledged to meet.
On Saturday, MPs withheld support for Johnson’s deal until they could scrutinise its details. This move was aimed at preventing hardline Brexiters blocking a subsequent withdrawal bill as the clock ticks down to October 31, in order to engineer the “no-deal” scenario that many of them want.
In principle, therefore, this has made a no-deal Brexit less likely by forcing Johnson to request an EU extension.
However, if Bercow allows a “meaningful vote” on Johnson’s deal prior to the publication of a withdrawal bill, and if this is passed – thereby removing the need for an extension – there remains the potential that a bill can be sabotaged in the next 10 days – resulting in no deal.
A no-deal Brexit also remains possible if the EU refuses to grant an extension, although that is thought to be unlikely.
Even if Johnson’s deal is passed, many opposition MPs fear a “trapdoor to no deal” with respect to trade under the terms of his plan when a Brexit transition period expires at the end of 2020.
If approval for Johnson’s bill is delayed beyond Thursday, it will not go before the European Parliament until November – meaning the earliest date for a Brexit signed and sealed on both sides would be December 1.
While Johnson was forced to request an extension on Saturday, if MPs back his deal this week that extension will no longer apply.
However, there is little time – about 11 days – for MPs to pass all the legislation required to make Brexit happen on October 31, making December 1 again seem realistic.
Johnson has asked for an early election which he seeks to win in the face of what he portrays as an obstructive parliament – but MPs have said no.
He will continue pressing for a poll – either to rectify his lack of a working majority so he can force through his Brexit vision during any extension or, if his Brexit proceeds, to pre-empt a potential economic downturn.
Labour has pledged to support an election if the threat of a no-deal Brexit is removed – which in principle could happen this week – but its poll ratings have plummeted and it may hold out until they improve.