Boris Johnson's Brexit Deal Just Suffered a Big Setback

Here's what you need to know about Johnson's latest defeat in Parliament.

by Zing Tsjeng
19 October 2019, 2:24pm

Boris Johnson. Photo via BBC

The House of Commons sat on a weekend for the first time since the Falklands War to vote on Boris Johnson's Brexit deal. But instead of the Super Saturday final showdown that many were expecting, MPs chose to back the Letwin amendment – a piece of legislation that was tabled as an add-on to the government motion – and successfully derailed the prime minister's deal. For now, at least.

The amendment withholds parliamentary approval of the deal until it passes the legislation required to implement it. MPs passed it by 322 votes to 306 – a majority of 16 – meaning that Johnson is obliged today to write a letter to the European Union requesting an extension.

Here's a quick refresher in case you aren't up to date with this week's scintillating cross-party action. Sir Oliver Letwin – a former Tory cabinet minister who was dramatically booted out of his own party in September, along with 20 others – successfully tabled a motion that allowed MPs to debate multiple amendments to the deal.

That subsequently meant Letwin could propose an amendment that effectively forces the government to seek a delay to Brexit because, as the amendment reads, Parliament would "[withhold] approval unless and until implementing legislation is passed”.

As no meaningful vote has happened today, that also triggers the Benn Act, a piece of legislation cooked up in September by another group of canny MPs, and forces the prime minister to request an extension from Brussels until January 31st, 2020.

Letwin heads up a band of cross-party MPs who fear the prospect of crashing out of the EU without a deal. If MPs approve the deal but can't (or won't) agree on the relevant legislation to enable our exit before the 31st October deadline, it would lead to a no-deal Brexit.

If this all sounds ridiculously technical, remember that Letwin's not called a "procedural Brexit big brain" for nothing.

The government chose to abandon plans for a vote on Johnson's bill after the Letwin amendment was passed. "Alas, the opportunity to have a meaningful vote has effectively been passed up," Johnson unhelpfully explained to MPs after the result of the amendment vote was announced. Shortly afterwards, most Tory MPs departed the chamber.

Now, this doesn't mean that Johnson is about to go back to the EU to ask for an extension. He told MPs: "I will not negotiate a delay with the EU and neither does the law compel me to do so. Further delay will be bad for this country."

Downing Street has also refused to say whether Johnson would be writing to Brussels to request the extension.

Just remember, all of this could have been avoided if we just voted to stay in the EU. Where's that time travel machine when you need it?


Boris Johnson