British lawmakers reject government’s fast-track timetable for Brexit bill

UK Parliament  Jessica Taylor

UK Parliament Jessica Taylor

Boris Johnson won Parliament's backing for the substance of his Brexit deal but lost a key vote on its timing, a result that inches him closer to his goal of leading his country out of the European Union - but effectively guarantees it won't happen on the scheduled date of October 31.

Looking at the route forward for his deal, the Prime Minister again piled the pressure on Members in the house - the majority of which were against Brexit during the 2016 referendum and many of which who would go to nearly any length to prevent Britain leaving without a deal - by announcing the government would respond to Tuesdays' vote by intensifying no-deal preparations. "The EU must make up their minds over how to answer Parliament's request", he told MPs.

A long delay would allow time for an election and for opponents of the divorce to push for another referendum.

Johnson said that if the lawmakers back his Withdrawal Agreement Bill then "we can get Brexit done and move our country on".

EU Council President Donald Tusk said he would recommend a Brexit deadline extension to EU leaders.

Technically, Members of Parliament (MPs) agreed to advance Johnson's Withdrawal Agreement Bill through the House of Commons.

But just minutes later, MPs rejected by 322 to 308 his timetable motion demanding they push through the bill in three days to allow Britain's departure at the end of this month.

BBC's Europe editor Katya Adler said most of the people in European Union circles she had spoken to were tempted to grant the extension to 31 January laid out in the so-called Benn Act - the law aimed at preventing no-deal.

With speedy ratification now in doubt, a postponement seems inevitable.

"I think his best hope now is to go to the European Union and say "I have got this bill, it has support in the house, so you need to say: No extension", and that will force MPs who really do want to avoid no deal to actually vote for this deal".

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Tusk said Tuesday that the decision on prolonging Brexit for three months after October 31 "will very much depend on what the British Parliament decides or doesn't decide".

But before Tuesday's vote, he also said: "I will in no way allow months more of this". The serious and far-reaching impact of this saga has cost the United Kingdom three and a half years of lost opportunity and many tens of billions of pounds'.

But to stick to his Brexit deadline he needs to get the deal through in the next week - and has no majority in the 650-seat House of Commons.

Reacting to the results of the votes in the chamber, Jeremy Corbyn said: "Tonight, the House has refused to be bounced into debating a hugely significantly piece of legislation in just two days with barely any notice or an analysis of the economic impact of this bill".

Mr Johnson was forced to ask the European Union to push the deadline to January 2020 after a vote on Saturday night - the Prime Minister previously said he would rather be "dead in a ditch" before asking for an extension and sent off a request letter without signing it. And he managed to win the vote without the backing of the Tory's ally, Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, which opposed the agreement.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson said he "nearly choked" when he heard Johnson's assurances, adding: "The prime minister thinks I can't read the agreement".

The votes mean that Johnson has succeeded where his predecessor Theresa May failed, in obtaining a majority in favour of a Brexit deal.

Businesses and markets on both sides of the Channel fear such a scenario, where Britain severs ties with its closest trading partner with no new plans in place after 46 years of integration.

It also confirms a transition period lasting until at least the end of 2020 - and possibly 2022 - in which relations will remain frozen as they are now while a permanent new relationship is worked out.

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