Brexit back in chaos after Johnson loses vote in Parliament to speed up ratification

Britain’s departure from the European Union was thrown into chaos on Tuesday after Parliament rejected Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s extremely tight timetable for ratifying his exit deal.

Ahead of the vote, Johnson had warned Parliament that if lawmakers defeated him on the timetable and forced a delay until January, then he would abandon his attempt to ratify the deal and push for an election instead under the slogan of “Get Brexit Done.”

On Saturday, Johnson was forced by opponents into the humiliation of asking the EU for a delay beyond Oct. 31 that he had vowed he would never seek. The European Council President Donald Tusk said he is taking the request seriously.

Lawmakers voted 322 to 308 against the so-called Program Motion, which set out a three-day schedule to rush his deal through the House of Commons.

Earlier, lawmakers voted 329 to 299 in favour of the second reading of his 115-page Withdrawal Agreement Bill, a significant boost for Johnson just five days after he struck a last-minute deal with the EU.

Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition party did not support Johnson’s Brexit deal or his timetable to pass the legislation for it through Parliament. (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via Reuters)

The outcome meant lawmakers wanted more time to scrutinize the complex legislation.

Following the vote, Johnson said he will “pause” the legislation to ratify its Brexit deal with the EU while the bloc decides whether to offer a delay to Britain’s planned Oct. 31 exit.

“The EU must now make up their minds over how to answer Parliament’s request for a delay,” he said. 

“I will speak to EU member states about their intentions. Until they have reached a decision, we will pause this legislation. Let me be clear, our policy remains that we should not delay,” Johnson said.

Tusk said he would recommend that the other 27 member states of the European Union approve a delay of Britain’s departure date.

The length of any extension could decide the course of Brexit: a long delay would allow opponents of the divorce to push for another referendum. A short delay might increase pressure on Parliament to approve a deal.

Irish PM Leo Varadkar welcomed the vote in favour of Johnson’s legislation.

“We will now await further developments from London and Brussels about next steps including timetable for the legislation and the need for an extension,” Varadkar said.

In his statement after the votes in Parliament, Johnson did not mention an election. Johnson would need the support of Parliament to call one.

Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn called on Johnson to work with other parties to ensure a reasonable timetable to discuss the deal. Some in the Labour Party expect a short extension, with Brexit being resolved and then an election within months.

Behind the daily Brexit combat in Parliament, in the courts and at late-night EU summits, a much bigger game is being played over whether Brexit will happen at all.

Johnson faces legislative booby traps at every juncture, but the opponents of Brexit are also deeply divided — one of the reasons their campaign to “Remain” failed in the 2016 vote.

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