Johnson to Press Ahead After Timetable Setback: Brexit Update

Kitty Donaldson, Robert Hutton and Alex Morales
Johnson to Press Ahead After Timetable Setback: Brexit Update

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Boris Johnson’s mission to take the U.K. out of the European Union in nine days’ time was thrown off course as members of Parliament blocked his plan to rush the Brexit deal into law.

The House of Commons voted 322 to 308 against Johnson’s proposed fast-track timetable for the Withdrawal Agreement Bill -- the crucial piece of law to implement the deal he struck in Brussels last week. The defeat followed an initial victory for Johnson in gaining parliamentary support for the general principles of the deal he struck with the EU.

Key Developments

Defeat makes it virtually impossible for Johnson to get his accord ratified in time to meet the current exit day deadline of Oct. 31.Speaking after result, Johnson said his policy remains that Brexit should not be delayed, but that the legislation will be put on hold. Johnson also said he’ll step up preparations for a no-deal Brexit on Oct. 31. The pound fell.Read more: Northern Irish Loyalists Warn of ‘Angry’ Backlash to Brexit Deal

Follow developments as they happen here. All times U.K.

Johnson Pauses Brexit Legislation (7:44 p.m.)

After the house of Commons rejected Boris Johnson’s proposed accelerated timetable for debating his Brexit legislation, he said he’ll put it on hold and step up preparations for a no-deal Brexit on Oct. 31. In the meantime, he’ll await the EU’s verdict on the extension to the Brexit deadline he was forced by Parliament to request.

Immediately before Johnson spoke, opposition Labour Party Leader Jerem,y Corbyn offered him an olive branch, asking him to “work with all of us to agree a reasonable timetable” for the legislation, and he suspected MPs would vote for it.

Johnson Loses Vote on Fast-Tracking Bill (7.36 p.m.)

Boris Johnson’s victory in securing passage of his Brexit legislation to the next stage of debate in the House of Commons was swiftly followed by defeat, as MPs rejected his proposed accelerated timetable for conducting that scrutiny.

The House of Commons voted by 322 to 308 to reject Johnson’s plan, which would have seen the legislation debated in just three days. MPs objected to such a short period of time to scrutinize legislation which will have repercussions for trade, the economy and the union of Northern Ireland with England, Scotland and Wales.

Johnson Wins First Vote on His Brexit Deal (7.15 p.m.)

Boris Johnson won a dramatic vote on his new Brexit plan by a margin of 329 to 299 on Tuesday evening. It’s the first demonstration that the House of Commons is prepared to approve the broad principles of an agreement that takes the U.K. out of the European Union: the chamber three times rejected the previous deal negotiated by Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May.

But the prime minister’s victory may be short-lived: MPs are now voting on the accelerated timetable proposed by Johnson to scrutinize and amend the plan. He’s planning to push it through the Commons in just three days, so that he can avoid delaying Brexit for a third time, beyond the current Oct. 31 deadline. If they reject his schedule, he’s said he’ll pull the legislation.

DUP’s Wilson Attacks Johnson’s Deal (5 p.m.)

Sammy Wilson of the Democratic Unionist Party tore into Boris Johnson’s Brexit agreement. “I don’t believe we should be voting for this bill tonight,” he began. His primary objection is that the deal treats Northern Ireland -- a red line for his party -- and referring to the premier’s assurances on how measures applying to the province could be temporary, said: “The prime minister thinks I can’t read the agreement.”

“We will be left in an arrangement whereby EU law on all trade, goods, will be applied to Northern Ireland,” he said.

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow then interrupted Wilson before he could finish and confirm he’ll be voting against the deal -- but it didn’t sound good for the government.

Letwin Backs Down on Timetable (4.15 p.m.)

Oliver Letwin, one of the former Conservative MPs who has been such a thorn in Boris Johnson’s side, is now trying to help. “Getting seriously worried,” he said on Twitter, arguing that it would be a disaster if the bill were pulled. Instead, he said it was “the least of the evils” to back down in the face of Johnson’s threat and accept the accelerated timetable “whatever we really think of it.”

Labour MPs Propose Referendum Amendment (3:40 p.m.)

Phil Wilson, a Labour MP who put his name to an amendment calling for a confirmatory public vote on any Brexit deal earlier in the year, told Bloomberg he’d proposed it again. “We have put the amendment down because we genuinely believe in 2016 people voted to leave but they didn’t vote on how to leave,” he said.

Labour to Whip Against Bill, Timetable (3:25 p.m.)

The opposition Labour Party will whip its members of Parliament to vote against the second reading of Boris Johnson’s Brexit bill, and also to oppose the accelerated timetable -- the so-called program motion -- the premier proposes to debate the legislation, two people familiar with the matter said.

But in the chamber of the House of Commons, party leader Jeremy Corbyn suggested that rebels won’t be punished with expulsion from the party -- as Johnson did to his own Conservative rebels last months. Asked by Jim Fitzpatrick, who has repeatedly rebelled on Brexit matters, for assurance that such a punishment wouldn’t be meted out, Corbyn declined to give it, but at the same time, suggested rebels will be safe.

“I believe in the powers of persuasion,” Corbyn said. “And tonight, I would like to persuade my honorable friend come with us vote against this bill and vote against the program motion.”

Can Johnson Even Call An Election? (3:10 p.m.)

It’s all very well for Boris Johnson to threaten an election (see 2:45 p.m.), but if it were in his power to call one, Britain would have already voted. Johnson tried twice at the start of September to get one, failing both times because under the law, two thirds of MPs have to vote for an early election for one to happen.

That means that as before, Johnson would still need the opposition Labour Party’s agreement, and that’s far from certain, even though leader Jeremy Corbyn has said he’d support one if it weren’t for the risk of a no-deal Brexit.

In theory, Johnson could change the law to set another election date. That would require only a simple majority -- though he doesn’t have one of those, either.

Barnier to Lead New EU Task Force (3 p.m.)

The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, already has his next job lined up -- even though the U.K. is still navigating its withdrawal. The European Commission on Tuesday announced Barnier as head of the EU’s new Task Force for Relations with the U.K.

The task force will coordinate work on “strategic, operational, legal and financial” issues related to Brexit, according to an emailed statement from the commission. It will also “be in charge of the finalization of the Article 50 negotiations, as well as the commission’s ‘no-deal’ preparedness work and the future relationship negotiations with the U.K.”

What Exactly Is Johnson’s Election Threat? (2.45 p.m.)

Boris Johnson’s election threat was carefully constructed. Here is it is full:

“I will in no way allow months more of this. 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. It is with great regret bill will have to be pulled and we will have to go forward to a general election.”

The “until January” part of that could be significant. Johnson was required by law to seek a delay of Brexit until Jan. 31 if he was unable to get a deal done -- but the EU isn’t obliged to offer that long. If they offered a shorter period, perhaps Johnson is hinting he wouldn’t go through with his threat to pull the bill.

Practically, given the time it would take to hold an election -- at least five weeks -- and the uncertainty around the outcome, it would be risky for the EU to offer a shorter delay. In that scenario, the U.K. could easily find itself on a course out of the door without a functioning government at all.

Johnson Threatens Election If MPs Block Timetable (2:26 p.m.)

Boris Johnson confirmed earlier reports he will indeed pull his Brexit bill if MPs reject the government’s accelerated timetable this evening.

When asked by the SNP’s David Linden, Johnson told MPs that if the motion proposing a fast-track timetable is voted down, “the bill will have to be pulled” and “we will have to go forward to a general election.”

Kinnock Proposes Single Market Amendment (2 p.m.)

Labour MP Stephen Kinnock proposed an amendment to the bill which seeks to ensure the U.K. stays aligned with the EU single market after it’s left the EU.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Kinnock said businesses have raised concerns that the EU would never do a free trade deal with a country that had diverged from its rules and regulations to become “Singapore on Thames.”

The amendment proposes the government will work toward close alignment with the single market, “dynamic” rights and protections for workers and the environment, and to participate in EU agencies.

Kinnock said the amendment has been proposed for debate and potentially voting on Tuesday or Wednesday.

PM ‘Will Ditch Bill’ if Defeated on Timetable (1:45 p.m.)

The prime minister may have the votes to get his deal approved but faces a major battle to convince MPs to rush the law through Parliament in just a few days. If they refuse his request for a speedy timetable, Johnson has little chance of meeting his goal of getting Brexit done by Oct. 31.

The premier’s team hit back, with one senior government official in Johnson’s office saying he will abandon the bill entirely if he loses the vote on the fast-track timetable motion on Tuesday.

The official said the prime minister will ditch the bill if Parliament votes again for a delay and the EU offers an extension to the Brexit deadline to Jan. 31. The official said the government will pull the Bill, there will be no further business for Parliament, and the Johnson will move to trigger an election before Christmas.

The official’s comments may put more pressure on MPs to agree to the accelerated timetable ahead of the vote. The pound fell by as much as 0.5% to $1.2891, a fresh low for the day.

Johnson: Back Brexit Deal to ‘Heal’ Britain (1:30 p.m.)

Johnson opened the debate in Parliament on his deal, calling on MPs of all parties to back his Withdrawal Agreement Bill so that voters can focus on domestic priorities instead of Brexit.

Passing the bill later Tuesday will allow the nation to “turn the page and allow this parliament and this country to heal,” Johnson said. A vote to support the new Brexit agreement would provide a “shot in the arm” for the British economy and unleash a “tide” of investment, he said. The premier was replying to a question on why the government hasn’t provided economic impact assessments of his deal.

Johnson to Make Case for Fast Timetable (1 p.m.)

Boris Johnson will be making the case for a three-day timetable for his Brexit bill to pass through the House of Commons when he opens the debate shortly, according to a U.K. official, though the prime minister won’t say what he’ll do if MPs vote against the accelerated schedule.

But precedent suggests the bill could be pulled. According to the official, since so-called program motions were introduced in the 1980s, there is only a single example -- in 2011 -- of one being voted down. That bill was withdrawn, the official said.

Johnson to Open Debate on Brexit Bill (12:30 p.m.)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will open the main debate on his Brexit legislation in the House of Commons, his spokesman told reporters, with Justice Secretary Robert Buckland making closing remarks at about 6:30 p.m.

Voting down the timetable -- known as the program motion -- for the three-day passage of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill through the House of Commons would have “serious implications,” spokesman James Slack said, declining to say what the government plans to do in that scenario, including whether the Brexit bill would be pulled.

“If the program motion is passed, we have a clear path to leave on Oct. 31,” Slack said. “If it’s not passed, there’s no guarantee the EU will grant an extension.”

Brexit May Tie N. Ireland to EU Forever: Judge (12:25 p.m.)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal could permanently bind Northern Ireland to European Union law, according to an Irish judge at the bloc’s second-highest court, who suggested the accord may eventually bring the people of the island of Ireland together.

Johnson’s agreement would have “very long-term consequences for the continued separation of Northern Ireland from Ireland,” Judge Anthony Collins said at an event in Brussels late Monday. That’s because EU law and practice would continue to be applied, which will aid the economic development of the region, he said.

Boles Proposes Amendment to Extend Transition (11:15 a.m.)

Former Conservative MP Nick Boles, who now sits as an independent in Parliament, has proposed an amendment that would force the government to seek an extension of the Brexit transition period to Dec. 2022 if it hasn’t agreed a trade deal with the European Union by the deadline at the end of next year.

The amendment reflects unease among MPs that the government’s legislation creates a potential new cliff edge in Dec. 2020, when the U.K. could still face trading on no-deal terms with the EU if the government doesn’t reach a trade agreement. Labour’s Hilary Benn said on Twitter the draft law gives Parliament no say if the government doesn’t propose an extension -- and Boles’s amendment seeks to address that.

Labour Party ‘Outraged’ at Government’s Timetable (11 a.m.)

The main opposition’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Emily Thornberry said the Labour Party is “outraged” at the government’s accelerated timetable for debating its Brexit bill, but stopped short of saying the party would oppose what it sees as an “artificial” deadline. She told the BBC a decision would be made at a shadow cabinet meeting later on how to vote on Tuesday.

Government Hints It Will Pull Bill If MPs Amend It (8.30 a.m.)

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told BBC radio the government will not accept any amendments to the Brexit bill that “compromise the integrity of the deal we have secured from the EU,” implying the government will pull the bill altogether and seek a general election if MPs change Johnson’s legislation to include a second referendum or to keep the U.K. in the EU’s customs union.

Labour has repeatedly voted down Johnson’s attempts for a general election, arguing an extension must be agreed with the European Union first.

Juncker Expresses Brexit Regret (8:25 a.m.)

For the European Union, Brexit has been a “waste of time and a waste of energy” when the bloc should have been doing other things, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said.

Standing with EU Council President Donald Tusk before the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Juncker said the EU has done all in its power to prevent a no-deal Brexit. He reiterated that the European Parliament -- which has a veto over the Brexit deal -- would only be able to ratify the deal after the British Parliament. That’s a potential spanner in the works when it comes to Boris Johnson’s ambition to leave the bloc on Oct. 31.

EU’s Tusk Still Consulting on Delay (8:20 a.m.)

EU Council President Donald Tusk said the situation on Brexit is complicated by the events in the House of Commons on Saturday, and a delay will depend on what the U.K. Parliament “decides or doesn’t decide.” Tusk is still consulting the EU’s 27 leaders on how to respond to Boris Johnson’s extension request, he told the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

MPs Have Time to Scrutinize Deal: Government (8:10 a.m.)

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky News there will be “sufficient” time for members of Parliament to go over the Withdrawal Agreement Bill and that the “vast majority” know where they on Brexit.

But MPs from across the House of Commons are threatening to vote against Boris Johnson’s accelerated timetable for his Brexit plan, arguing three days of debate is not enough for proper analysis of the 110-page piece of legislation.

Former Conservative Cabinet minister Rory Stewart, who now sits as an independent, told BBC radio Parliament should have “normal time” to discuss the bill, highlighting concerns from voters who wish to remain in the European Union and a lack of trust in Johnson’s government.

Johnson: Get Brexit Done and Move On (Earlier)

On the eve of the votes, the prime minister appealed to members of Parliament to back his deal and push it through the House of Commons.

“We have negotiated a new deal so that we can leave without disruption and provide a framework for a new relationship based on free trade and friendly cooperation,” Boris Johnson said in an emailed statement.

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

Earlier:

Boris Johnson Finally Gets to Put His Brexit Deal to the VoteBrexit’s Big Winner So Far Is Boris Johnson: Clive CrookFacebook Pledges Tighter Scrutiny for Next U.K. Election

--With assistance from John Ainger, Robert Hutton, Aoife White, Stephanie Bodoni, Ian Wishart and Jessica Shankleman.

To contact the reporters on this story: Kitty Donaldson in London at kdonaldson1@bloomberg.net;Robert Hutton in London at rhutton1@bloomberg.net;Alex Morales in London at amorales2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tim Ross at tross54@bloomberg.net, Stuart Biggs

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