Boris Johnson 'pauses' Brexit bill after MPs reject his fast-track Commons timetable

Exit plan is backed by parliamentarians for the first time but scheduling dispute leaves deal in limbo

Photo: PA

By Richard Johnstone

23 Oct 2019

Boris Johnson has "paused" his Brexit bill after MPs blocked his attempts to rush it through the Commons in time for the UK to leave the EU on 31 October.

On another evening of parliamentary drama, MPs voted 322 to 308 against a government "programme motion" on the timetable for the Withdrawal Agreement Bill.

It means the prime minister has virtually no chance of keeping his promise to take the UK out of the EU on 31 October, and has lead governemnt sources to indicate they will once again try to force a general election.



The result came just minutes after they had passed the bill at second reading, meaning they backed its general principles.

Speaking after his latest Commons defeat, Johnson said he would now speak to EU leaders to find out the length of Brexit extension they will now offer the UK.

Earlier, he had said he will call for an election before Christmas is the delay runs to months.

The prime minister said: “I must express my disappointment that the House has voted again for delay, rather than a timetable that would have guaranteed that the UK would in a position to leave the EU on 31 October with a deal.

"We now face further uncertainty and the EU must now make up their minds over how to answer parliament’s request for a delay, and the first consequence is that the Government must take the only responsible course and accelerate our preparations for a no deal outcome.

"But secondly, I will speak to EU member states about their intentions until they have reached a decision. Until then we will pause this legislation, and let me be clear, our policy remains that we should not delay, that we should leave on October 31 and that is what I will say to the EU and I will report back to the House.

"One way or another we will leave the EU with this deal to which this House has just given its assent and I thank members across the house for that hard-won agreement.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn urged Johnson to speak to Labour about agreeing an alternative timetable for MPs to consider the bill, which had been criticised for providing too little time for scrutiny.

He said: "On Saturday, this House emphatically rejected the government's deal. Tonight, the House has refused to be bounced into debating a hugely significant piece of legislation in just two days, with barely any notice and an analysis of the economic impact of this bill.

"The prime minister is the author of his own misfortune. So, I make this offer to him tonight. Work with us, all of us to agree a reasonable timetable and I suspect this House will vote to debate, scrutinise and I hope amend the detail of this bill. That would be the sensible way forward and that is the offer I make on behalf of the opposition tonight."

Speaking on Tuesday, European Council president Donald Tusk said EU27 leaders had not yet decided what length of delay to offer the UK.

"I am consulting EU leaders on how to respond to the British request for an Art.50 extension," he tweeted.

"We should be ready for every scenario. But I made clear to PM Boris Johnson: a no-deal Brexit will never be our decision."

Despite the failure of the programme motion, passing the Brexit bill by 329 to 299 at second reading was the first time MPs have supported any exit deal, after the withdrawal agreement negotiated by Theresa May was defeated on three occasions.

Following PM @BorisJohnson’s decision to pause the process of ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement, and in order to avoid a no-deal #Brexit, I will recommend the EU27 accept the UK request for an extension. For this I will propose a written procedure.

— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) October 22, 2019

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