September 28, 2021

Labour will back second referendum when Brexit legislation is brought in


brexit countdown_bgCreated with Sketch.

Labour will support efforts to hijack Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal this week in a bid to make the Prime Minister’s divorce agreement subject to a second referendum, two of the party’s most senior figures revealed today.

Sir Keir Starmer said it was ‘inevitable’ an amendment calling for a confirmatory public vote would be brought forward and Labour would support it when the PM asks MPs to back his deal as John McDonnell agreed with the shadow Brexit secretary.

Meanwhile, Sir Keir confirmed Labour will try to change the deal to include the UK being in a customs union with the EU after Brexit in a move which would potentially torpedo the whole agreement.  

On Tuesday, the PM is expected to try to rubberstamp his deal by voting on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill and his chances of victory were given a boost today after ex-Tory MPs Sir Oliver Letwin and Amber Rudd said they will back it. 

Brussels has indicated it will wait for the result of a Commons vote on the deal before deciding whether to offer the UK a delay after Mr Johnson forwarded Parliament’s demand for an extension to the bloc while also setting out his opposition to one.

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.

Mr Johnson was unable to hold a ‘meaningful vote’ on his Brexit accord yesterday after MPs voted for an amendment which scuppered his plans and forced him to comply with the anti-No Deal Benn Act and ask Brussels to push back the UK’s departure date.

The PM responded to the vote by sending three letters to the EU: An unsigned photocopy of the legally required letter asking for the delay, another making clear the first was from parliament and not him, and a third urging Brussels not to grant the extension. 

Donald Tusk appeared to be unmoved by the manner in which Mr Johnson asked for the postponement as the president of the European Council said he would now consider the request.

Mr Tusk tweeted: ‘The extension request has just arrived. I will now start consulting EU leaders on how to react.’ 

But the decision to send three letters and to refuse to sign the one required under the Benn Act sparked widespread fury among the PM’s critics and political opponents. 

Mr Johnson will be hoping that his public opposition to a Brexit delay and his desire to deliver on his ‘do or die’ vow will be enough to persuade the EU not to offer an extension. 

Allies of the Prime Minister today dismissed the importance of the Benn Act letter as they said the UK will still split from the EU on October 31 and that the letter will be withdrawn if and when MPs vote for the PM’s deal. 

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

Regardless of what happens with Mr Bercow the government will now table the Withdrawal Agreement Bill – the legislation needed to actually make Brexit happen – 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.     

But Remain-backing MPs will use the votes on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill to try to change the PM’s deal and make it subject to a second referendum. 

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. 

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

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.  

Sir Keir 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. 

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.’ 

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.  

Michael Gove insists UK will leave EU on time

Michael Gove today guaranteed the UK will leave the European Union by October 31 as he claimed a letter asking the bloc for a Brexit delay will be withdrawn if MPs vote for Boris Johnson’s divorce deal.

European leaders are now considering their next move after Mr Johnson blindsided Remainers and triggered major outrage last night as he sent the EU three letters in a bid to thwart any Brexit extension demanded by MPs.

Mr Gove, the minister in charge of No Deal Brexit preparations, today dismissed the importance of the Benn Act letter as he said the UK will still split from the EU on October 31. 

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.’ 

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 existing 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

Will John Bercow sabotage Boris Johnson’s  Brexit plans?

John Bercow and Boris Johnson are on a collision course this evening ahead of a crunch showdown in the House of Commons tomorrow. 

Mr Johnson wants to try to force another ‘meaningful vote’ on his Brexit deal after his first attempt was scuppered yesterday. 

But the Commons Speaker is considering whether the vote should be allowed to go ahead amid growing speculation he will block the Prime Minister. 

Parliamentary rules dictate that MPs are not supposed to vote on the same motion more than once. 

Mr Bercow could argue that Mr Johnson blew his chance to vote on his Brexit deal after he failed to secure the support of MPs yesterday on ‘Super Saturday’. 

The government is likely to argue that because MPs hijacked the motion and amended it to force the PM to ask the EU for a Brexit delay they never actually voted on Mr Johnson’s original proposals. 

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the House of Commons, signalled the government’s intention to bring forward another ‘meaningful vote’ tomorrow when he addressed MPs at the close of proceedings yesterday. 

But Mr Bercow said he would have to rule on whether the vote could go ahead.

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. 

Those efforts culminated 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 

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.  

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. 

The Commons yesterday backed an amendment by Sir Oliver which effectively delayed a decision on Mr Johnson’s Brexit deal. 

That forced Mr Johnson to send a reluctant delay request to Brussels, in compliance with the Benn Act which was rammed through Parliament by Remainers last month. 

However, Mr Johnson accompanied the request with another letter saying he did not want an extension and another making clear the first was sent by Parliament and not him.

It is far from certain that the EU will grant a delay after Emmanuel Macron’s office said before the letters were sent that another extension would be ‘in the interest of no one’.

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 October 31.   

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.’

Mr Johnson’s decision to send three letters to the EU sparked fury among Remain campaigners and pro-EU MPs who accused the PM of flouting the Benn Act as Brexit again appeared destined to end up in the courts.     

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