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Brexit 'Super Saturday' a damp squib... so can we still expect fireworks?

 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Prime Minister Boris Johnson
House of Commons vote: Letwin amendment

It was billed as 'Super Saturday' as the Commons held a weekend sitting for the first time in 37 years, but things did not go the way Prime Minister Boris Johnson had planned.

What happened?

MPs voted by a majority of 16 to back an amendment put forward by former Cabinet minister Sir Oliver Letwin to withhold approval of the deal agreed between Mr Johnson and Brussels "unless and until implementing legislation is passed". Sir Oliver, who lost the Tory whip for voting against the government on Brexit previously, said the amendment was "insurance" against the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal by mistake on the scheduled deadline of October 31.

How did the PM react?

The Prime Minister decided not to have a so-called "meaningful vote" on his deal in light of the amendment. The government is set to bring the Withdrawal Agreement Bill - the legislation needed for Brexit - to the Commons next week.

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

What about the letters?

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 told the Commons: "I will not negotiate a delay with the EU, and neither does the law compel me to do so." But the Prime Minister did send two letters to European Council President Donald Tusk. First, there was an unsigned photocopy of the request he was obliged to send under the Benn Act, followed by a letter explaining why the government did not actually want an extension.

Will EU agree to 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. 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 he can get the Withdrawal Agreement Bill through Parliament next week.

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