September 25, 2021

Calls for Europe to block a Brexit delay grow after Boris Johnson request


brexit countdown_bgCreated with Sketch.

Britain was today urged to ‘finally reach a decision’ on Brexit and provide a ‘yes or no’ on Boris Johnson’s deal as EU politicians hinted they might not grant a further delay. 

Mr Johnson last night sent an unsigned request to extend the Brexit process, along with two further letters which make clear he opposes such a delay. 

While Brussels decides how to respond, the PM will try to force his deal through Parliament this week – setting up a series of knife-edge votes at Westminster as he attempts to meet his October 31 deadline to deliver Brexit. 

Today there were growing calls in Europe to bring the three-year Brexit process to an end, which could leave Britain facing a No Deal exit if Mr Johnson falls short in Parliament. 

‘We need a yes or no from Britain on the Brexit agreement,’ said Emmanuel Macron’s European affairs minister Amelie de Montchalin. 

‘We should stop believing that it’s in everybody’s interest to put everything on hold for six months and everything will be better after that,’ she told French media. 

Mr Macron has long been impatient with Britain – lobbying EU leaders in April to limit the current extension to six months rather than a year – and his office said last night that a further delay would be ‘in no-one’s interest’. 

In Germany, senior Social Democrat MP Achim Post said it was time for Britain to ‘finally reach a decision’ and said any extension granted this month should be the last. 

‘The key players in London should not gamble on Europe’s patience being limitless. Brexit can’t be allowed to become an unending political drama,’ he said. 

‘It needs to be made clear to the Brits that this is the last extension and you finally need to come to a decision,’ he added, suggesting a second referendum as one possible option. 

Boris Johnson (pictured in Downing Street yesterday) last night sent a reluctant, unsigned request to extend the Brexit process beyond October 31 after MPs failed to back his deal in the Commons yesterday

French President Emmanuel Macron (pictured in Brussels on Friday) is one of the EU leaders who will have to approve an extension and his office said last night that a further delay was in ‘no-one’s interest’

French minister Amelie de Montchalin (left) said ‘we need a yes or no from Britain on the Brexit agreement’ while senior German MP Achim Post (right) warned that Europe’s patience was not limitless

What happens next in the Brexit process?

– Could Mr Johnson still get his deal through Parliament?

Yes, but time is running out before the October 31 deadline as the European Parliament would also need to ratify it.

Without a meaningful vote, support for the agreement has not yet been tested.

Though the PM has attracted support from a number of prominent Brexiteer Tories, the DUP is strongly opposed to the deal.

– If there is to be another vote, when will it happen?

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the House of Commons, said the government wants to hold another meaningful vote on Mr Johnson’s deal on Monday.

The Commons Speaker, John Bercow, said he would consider whether to allow the government’s plans.

Welsh Labour MP Chris Bryant said, in a point of order, that it is not good practice for a Government to keep holding debates on the exact same subject.

If a vote does happen, one unnamed Scottish opposition MP has been quoted as saying next week will not be a simple case of the Government just winning a vote on their new deal.

‘We’ll amend it (over and over). It’ll be totally disfigured. A different bill entirely,’ the MP reportedly said.

– What about the letters sent last night?

Under the terms of the so-called Benn Act, which was passed against the PM’s wishes, Mr Johnson was compelled to write to the EU asking for a three-month Brexit extension if he had not secured a deal by 11pm UK time on October 19.

He sent one unsigned letter asking for a delay, another making clear the first was from MPs and a third urging the EU not to grant an extension. 

– Will the EU agree to an extension?

Despite European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker raising doubts over another Brexit delay, the decision needs to be taken by all 27 remaining EU states, not him.

However, the EU could set a different length to an extension, either shorter or longer than the three-month one cited in the Benn Act.

The EU could decide not to formally respond to such a letter from the PM until it sees if Mr Johnson can get the Withdrawal Agreement Bill through Parliament next week.

All 27 EU governments would need to approve a further Article 50 extension – meaning it would only take one country to object to block a delay. 

Irish premier Leo Varadkar made that point in a veiled warning to London last night, reminding Mr Johnson that ‘extension can only be granted by unanimity’.  

Mr Johnson sent the legally required letter last night but followed it up with his own dispatch in which he warned a further delay would be ‘deeply corrosive’. 

The PM has repeatedly promised to leave on October 31 ‘do or die’ and the pledge was the centrepiece of his successful campaign for the Tory leadership.  

Brussels has indicated it will sit on Mr Johnson’s request and wait to see how the deal progresses through Parliament this week. 

The PM insists the deal can be rubber-stamped before October 31 but he faces a huge battle to get a Withdrawal Agreement Bill through the Commons and Lords before then.  

If the deal is on the brink of being approved, EU leaders could agree to a short ‘technical’ extension to help Mr Johnson get it over the line. 

If there is no extension, Britain could crash out of the EU on October 31 if the deal and accompanying legislation has not yet been passed. 

But EU leaders may be reluctant to block a delay in the last resort and Finland’s Prime Minister said today it would be ‘sensible’ to agree another extension.  

Mr Johnson’s hopes of passing his deal were given a boost today when former Tory MPs Amber Rudd and Sir Oliver Letwin both promised to support it. 

However, two of Labour’s most senior figures said today that the party would support efforts to hijack the deal and make it subject to a second referendum. 

Sir Keir Starmer said the Labour front bench would support a public vote amendment when the Bill is brought before MPs, which is expected to be on Tuesday. 

John McDonnell confirmed Labour’s support for a ‘People’s Vote’ but said Jeremy Corbyn may not bring the motion forward himself for fear of ‘alienating’ other parties.  

It is currently unclear whether there is a majority in the Commons in favour of putting Brexit back to the people but any vote is expected to be tight – especially after Labour formally backed the plan today. 

Meanwhile, Sir Keir confirmed Labour will try to change the deal to bring the UK into a customs union in a move which would potentially torpedo the whole agreement. 

Mr Johnson was unable to hold a ‘meaningful vote’ on his Brexit accord yesterday after MPs voted for an amendment which forced him to ask for a further delay first.  

Late last night Downing Street send three letters to the EU: an unsigned photocopy of the legally required letter asking for the delay, a second letter making clear the first was from Parliament and not from him, and a third urging Brussels not to grant the extension. 

What is happening on Brexit this week?

Monday: The government will try to force a ‘meaningful vote’ on Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal. But John Bercow could block it from happening. The government will also introduce the Withdrawal Agreement Bill. 

Tuesday: MPs will debate the Withdrawal Agreement for the first time. There will be a second reading vote – assuming the ‘meaningful vote’ does not go ahead on Monday this will be the first time MPs get a straight forward vote on Mr Johnson’s deal. 

Wednesday and Thursday: Assuming the Withdrawal Agreement clears its second reading it will then move onto its further Commons stages. This is when amendments are likely to be voted on. 

Friday: If Mr Johnson has not managed to make significant progress on the passage of the WAB, or if he has failed to win a vote on his deal, attention will shift to Brussels to see if an extension will be offered and whether an emergency summit will be called for October 28.  

European Council chief Donald Tusk acknowledged the request and said he would ‘start consulting EU leaders on how to react’. 

However, the decision to send three letters sparked widespread fury among the PM’s critics and political opponents. 

Tomorrow Remainers will return to court to argue that he flouted the ‘spirit’ of the Benn Act by trying to defeat its main objective of a delay. 

SNP MP Joanna Cherry said an existing case would resume before the Court of Session in Scotland on Monday.  

Labour’s Mr McDonnell today accused the PM of ‘clearly trying to undermine’ the request with his separate letter. 

Attention in legal circles has turned to the little known ‘Padfield principle’ stating that ministers cannot try to frustrate the purpose of a law. 

However, the PM’s allies insist that he complied with the Benn Act by sending a valid request last night which was acknowledged by Brussels.  

Mr Johnson has already faced one embarrassing court defeat when the Supreme Court ruled that his five-week suspension of Parliament was unlawful.  

Downing Street is hoping to hold a ‘meaningful vote’ on the deal on Monday, but John Bercow could block it on the grounds that Mr Johnson had already tried and failed yesterday to win support for his agreement. 

Either way, the Government will table the Withdrawal Agreement Bill – the legislation needed to implement the deal in UK law – with votes expected to take place on Tuesday.

If Mr Johnson is able to crash his Brexit legislation through parliament and win a ‘meaningful vote’ on his deal by the end of this week he could still stick to his ‘do or die’ pledge to leave by October 31.       

Michael Gove, the minister in charge of No Deal Brexit preparations, today downplayed the significance of the Benn Act letter as he said the UK will leave the EU on schedule.

Asked if the letter to the EU requesting a delay would be withdrawn in the coming days if Parliament backs the PM’s Brexit deal, he replied: ‘Yes. If we vote to leave, we get the legislation through, then there is no extension – October 31 is within sight.’

Asked if he could guarantee that the UK will leave the EU on time, Mr Gove told Sky News: ‘Yes, that’s our determined policy. We know that the EU want us to leave, we know that we have a deal that allows us to leave.’ 

In a sign of growing government optimism, Mr Gove also revealed he had made a bet with Health Secretary Matt Hancock about the size of the majority the PM could secure for his deal.

Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, was also bullish this morning on the government’s chances of winning a vote on the deal as he told the BBC: ‘We believe we have got the numbers.’   

Labour’s Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer (pictured on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show today) said the opposition front bench would back asecond referendum on Boris Johnson’s deal

John McDonnell told Sky News this morning that the second referendum amendment would have a better chance of success if it was tabled by backbenchers

Sir Oliver Letwin, pictured in London today, said he will be supporting Mr Johnson’s Brexit deal when it is put to a vote this week. Amber Rudd said the same thing during an appearance on Sky News

Mr Johnson, pictured arriving in Parliament yesterday, is expected to try to force a ‘meaningful vote’ on his Brexit deal tomorrow but he could be blocked by John Bercow

For Labour, Sir Keir Starmer told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show it was ‘inevitable’ the second referendum amendment would be tabled. 

He said: ‘It’s been down many times when we’ve got to this stage of the exercise. When that Bill goes down it is inevitable that that amendment will be put down, because a growing number of people now think the only way truly to settle this is to ask people, do you want to leave on these terms or would you rather remain?’. 

Asked if Labour would back such an amendment, Sir Keir replied: ‘Yes. Almost every victory we’ve had on anything in the last three years has come from the back benches. 

‘That’s how we got the meaningful vote, that’s how we got any progress in this.’

Asked if Labour MPs would be whipped to vote for the amendment, the shadow Brexit secretary said: ‘Andrew, we’ve already voted, I think three times, as a party, for a second referendum with a three-line whip behind it. 

‘And that is the clear policy. Whether it’s this deal or any future deal it’s got to go back so the public can say, ‘do you want to leave on these terms?’ If so then we do. If not, we remain.’

Mr McDonnell agreed with Sir Keir that the amendment would have the best chance of success if it was tabled by a backbencher rather than Jeremy Corbyn. 

Keir Starmer refuses to rule out running for Labour leader 

Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer today refused to rule out running for Labour leader himself. 

Jeremy Corbyn would be under heavy pressure to resign as leader if Labour lost the next general election. 

Asked by Andrew Marr if the next leader should be a woman, Mr Starmer said there was a ‘very strong case’ for the party to have its first female leader. 

‘I’m clearly not a woman and I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon,’ Mr Starmer joked. 

But pressed on whether he would run, he said he was ‘not going to start answering’ about his leadership ambitions. 

‘I’m not even discussing that, I’m 100 per cent behind Jeremy Corbyn,’ he said. 

‘I am working with Jeremy Corbyn to try to win the next general election.  

‘I think what’s most important is that we build on what we’ve got at the moment and we build on that 2017 manifesto that was so popular in our movement.’

Mr Starmer is the favourite with some bookmakers to succeed Mr Corbyn.  

The shadow chancellor told Sky News: ‘Sometimes the tactical choice on this is that sometimes it is better coming from a group of MPs from the backbenches where you can get cross-party agreement, and we have spoken about this on your programme some months ago… now I think inevitably that will come up but we’ve always said on a deal like this, if Boris Johnson is confident about this deal, go back to the people with it.’ 

If MPs do table and vote in favour of a second referendum being attached to Mr Johnson’s deal it will throw the entire Brexit process into fresh chaos. 

Just voting for a referendum will not be enough because MPs would then have to pass a law – likely against the wishes of the government – to make the public vote actually happen. 

MPs would also likely have to tear up the Commons rule book in order to pass a money resolution to pay for the referendum. 

Currently it is only ministers who can bring forward money resolutions during the law-making process.

Meanwhile, Sir Keir confirmed Labour will try to force through a major change to Mr Johnson’s proposed divorce agreement by inserting a requirement for the UK to be in a post-Brexit customs union with the EU. 

He said: ‘We’ve been arguing for a very long time now for a customs union with the EU and for single market alignment. 

‘There are other amendments that are really important because there is a trap door to no deal at the end of 2020 that we need to deal with and close, and we can do that in the legislation. 

‘And of course we need an amendment to say that whatever deal gets through it should be subject to a referendum where that deal is put to the public and they’re asked, ‘do you want to leave on these terms of would you rather remain in the EU?’ So next week’s going to be busy.’

Mr Johnson’s current Brexit deal would see the UK leave the EU customs union, allowing Britain to strike its own trade agreements in the future. 

Labour has long advocated a softer Brexit plan which would see the UK stay closer aligned to the bloc and stay in a customs union with Brussels. 

If MPs agreed to Labour’s amendment to add a customs union requirement to the PM’s agreement Mr Johnson would likely have no choice but to pull the final vote on his deal and go back to the drawing board. 

He is adamant he could never accept the kind of soft Brexit demanded by Labour.

It is unclear whether the customs union amendment would command the support of a majority of MPs but previous votes on similar amendments and motions have only been narrowly defeated.  

The interventions by Mr McDonnell and Sir Keir came after tens of thousands of pro-EU campaigners descended on Westminster yesterday to demand a second referendum as the House of Commons met for a special sitting dubbed ‘Super Saturday’.  

Mr McDonnell was among those who addressed the People’s Vote rally outside Parliament.

Mr Johnson sent a letter to Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, last night making clear he does not want a Brexit delay

Sir Tim Barrow, the UK’s ambassador to the EU, then submitted an unsigned photocopy of the Benn Act letter asking for a Brexit delay along with this cover letter

The unsigned Benn Act letter asks the EU to grant a Brexit delay until January 31 next year

Donald Tusk responded to the letters by saying he would now consider the extension request

Sir Oliver Letwin says he will vote for PM’s deal

Sir Oliver Letwin today said he will back Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal after the former Tory rebel’s wrecking amendment scuppered the PM’s EU divorce plans. 

MPs voted for a proposal put forward by Sir Oliver yesterday which required Mr Johnson to comply with the terms of the anti-No Deal law known as the Benn Act and write to the EU asking for an extension.  

The PM is adamant that he will deliver Brexit by October 31 and tomorrow he will try to force a fresh ‘meaningful vote’ on his deal in the Commons. 

He will also bring forward the legislation needed to actually make the UK’s orderly split from Brussels on Halloween a reality. 

The government is increasingly confident that there is a majority of MPs in favour of the new new divorce accord. 

And the PM received a boost this morning as Sir Oliver confirmed he will back the blueprint when it is put to a vote and ruled out any further attempts to prevent progress being made.

He told the BBC: ‘I am absolutely behind the government now as long as they continue with this bill, continue with the deal, I will support it, I will vote for it. 

Meanwhile, Amber Rudd, a former Tory Cabinet minister and now an independent MP, said she will vote for the deal. 

Ms Rudd insisted there was a ‘fragile but sincere coalition of people who want to support it’.  

‘It is a very fragile coalition to support the Prime Minister’s deal,’ she told Sky News.  

Experts have estimated that it would take at least 22 weeks – nearly six months – to arrange and hold a valid referendum. 

‘I accept that’s probably the timeframe, I think it could be shortened a bit but probably not much,’ Sir Keir said.    

‘If a general election comes first, as you know the Labour Party is saying we would seek to improve the deal but still put it back against Remain in a referendum.’  

Sir Keir also said today that Labour would be open to talking to the DUP about working together following the party’s falling out with Mr Johnson over the contents of his Brexit deal.  

He said: ‘I would openly invite the DUP to talk to us. If you want to work with us to improve the situation we’re in, our door is open to that discussion.’  

After initially ruling one out, Mr Corbyn has inched towards supporting a second referendum under pressure from the pro-Remain core of the Labour party.   

The party has long tried to steer a middle way on Brexit as it tried to keep Remain activists and Labour leave voters on board. 

The party’s equivocal stance was widely blamed for a disastrous result at the European Parliament elections in May, when Labour came third behind the Liberal Democrats.  

The pressure came to a head at the party’s annual conference in Brighton last month when the party agreed to stay neutral on Brexit if there is a snap general election.   

Assuming Labour won that election, a government led by Mr Corbyn would then facilitate a second referendum. 

The government hopes to bring another ‘meaningful vote’ on the Brexit deal tomorrow but Speaker John Bercow (pictured in the chair yesterday) may rule it out of order 

The party would decide its campaign position in the run up to that vote. 

What happens next on Brexit largely depends on what Mr Bercow decides to do tomorrow. 

After Mr Johnson lost the crunch vote yesterday, the Commons Speaker hinted he could block a government attempt to bring another ‘meaningful vote’ tomorrow. 

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the House of Commons, suggested the government would bring the vote before MPs are asked to vote on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, likely on Tuesday.

But Mr Bercow has previously ruled that MPs cannot hold repeated votes on the same question. 

Citing a precedent dating back to 1604, he ruled in March that then-PM Theresa May could not bring the same withdrawal deal back to Parliament without changes.   

The ruling enraged Conservative MPs who accused him of sparking a ‘constitutional crisis’ and of deliberately obstructing Brexit progress.  

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