British PM denied vote, faces perilous Brexit ratification

House Speaker rules it would be repetitive and disorderly for lawmakers to vote on same divorce deal twice

LONDON • British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces a potentially perilous ratification of his Brexit deal in Parliament after the Speaker refused to allow a vote on it yesterday.

With just nine days left until Britain is due to leave the European Union on Oct 31, the divorce procedure is again in disarray as politicians argue over whether to leave with a deal, without a deal or hold another referendum.

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow said a vote should not be allowed as the same issue had been discussed last Saturday, when Mr Johnson's opponents turned what was to be the Prime Minister's big Brexit day into a humiliation.

"In summary, today's motion is in substance the same as Saturday's motion and the House (of Commons) has decided the matter. Today's circumstances are in substance the same as Saturday's circumstances," Mr Bercow said.

"My ruling is therefore that the motion will not be debated today as it would be repetitive and disorderly to do so," he added.

Mr Johnson was ambushed in Parliament last Saturday by opponents who demanded a change to the sequencing of the ratification of the deal, exposing the Prime Minister to a law which forced him to request a delay until Jan 31.

Mr Johnson sent a letter to the EU unsigned - and added another signed note arguing against what he said was a "deeply corrosive" delay. The manoeuvre was designed to minimise the political damage of Mr Johnson going back on his word and seeking an extension ahead of an early general election most expect in the coming months.

The EU has accepted the first letter as valid but not yet given a final response on an extension.

But the deck against Mr Johnson seems stacked. His foes are forging new alliances and trying to attach amendments that could either force him to accept closer trade ties with the EU - or abandon the deal and accept a third delay this year.

 
 
 
 
 

Meanwhile, Scotland's top court yesterday delayed a ruling on whether Mr Johnson had fully obeyed the law demanding that he request a Brexit delay.

Mr Bercow's decision to refuse a vote on the deal switched the focus to the government's attempt to get lawmakers to support domestic legislation in the accompanying Withdrawal Agreement Bill tomorrow. Success or failure then would set the course for the coming week and largely determine whether Mr Johnson will get his Oct 31 Brexit.

But the deck against Mr Johnson seems stacked. His foes are forging new alliances and trying to attach amendments that could either force him to accept closer trade ties with the EU - or abandon the deal and accept a third delay this year.

The option of extending the 31/2-year crisis past the deadline is now in the hands of the 27 remaining EU member states.

But EU officials are still making preparations for Britain to leave at the end of the month.

"The EU is keeping all options open and has therefore initiated the ratification process so that it can be handed over to the European Parliament on Monday," an EU diplomat told AFP.

France believes another delay to Britain's exit from the EU is "in nobody's interest", said government spokesman Sibeth Ndiaye yesterday. The British "need to give a clear answer on what is an extremely simple alternative: Are they in favour of this accord, or against it", Ms Ndiaye said.

"Once we have a clear answer to a question which... has been the subject of more than two years of negotiations, we can determine what our attitude will be," she said.

British newspaper The Sunday Times reported that the EU will delay Brexit until next February if Mr Johnson is unable to get his deal through Parliament this week.

The delay would be "fungible", meaning that Britain could leave earlier, on Nov 1 or 15, December or January, if his deal is ratified before the extension ends, the newspaper said, citing diplomatic sources.

No decision will be taken until EU governments have the chance to assess the chances of the withdrawal treaty getting through Parliament before today, the paper added.

EU diplomats and officials told Reuters on Sunday that, depending on the next developments in London, extension options range from just an additional month until the end of November to half a year or even longer.

However, there is still a risk that Britain leaves the EU without a deal at the end of October, Brexit Minister Steve Barclay said.

"The risk of a no deal remains," Mr Barclay told a parliamentary committee yesterday. "The EU27 may not agree an extension and the House (Parliament) has not to date agreed a deal, and so that risk remains pertinent and it is important we prepare for it."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 22, 2019, with the headline 'British PM denied vote, faces perilous Brexit ratification'. Print Edition | Subscribe