Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 13 November 2019

Brexit: Boris Johnson defeated as MPs reject timetable for debating withdrawal bill

Prime Minister delays discussion of withdrawal bill despite winning earlier vote for second reading

Boris Johnson hopes to have a UK general election on December 12. AFP
Boris Johnson hopes to have a UK general election on December 12. AFP

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Brexit plan suffered a major setback on Tuesday as MPs rejected the timetable proposed for debating the withdrawal agreement.

Mr Johnson's commitment to take Britain out of the EU by October 31 looks in doubt after the government was defeated by a slim 322 votes to 308.

"The prime minister is the author of his own misfortune," opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn said after the vote.

Sterling fell against the dollar and the euro after the government lost out in the vote.

The pound dropped 0.40% to $1.281 (Dh 4.71), after reaching 22-week highs earlier on Tuesday amid optimism for the deal.

The EU divorce bill passed its first test in Parliament as the government won a vote on Tuesday night in which MPs agreed to give it a second reading.

Having twice been denied a vote on whether members of Parliament supported his deal, Mr Johnson introduced the bill that would implement the deal in law, and hoped to push it through Parliament quickly.

He said he would pull the bill and call for an election if the timetable was rejected by Parliament and the EU offered a further extension.

But Mr Johnson did not call for an election and on Tuesday EU Council President Donald Tusk said he will recommend that the bloc accepts the UK's request for a Brexit extension to prevent the country from crashing out without a deal.

MPs from across the House of Commons claimed that three days of debate was not enough for proper examination of the 110-page legislation.

The deputy leader of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, Nigel Dodds, said it was "proper and right" to demand further analysis of "some of the most important legislation we will have to consider".

Ken Clarke, a long-time politician from Mr Johnson's Conservative Party, said: "Unless you are prepared to contemplate more expansive debate, there is not the slightest possibility of considering the deal within the time available."

On Monday Mr Johnson tried to put his Brexit deal to a parliamentary vote but was rejected by the House Speaker, John Bercow.

Mr Bercow said the vote was "in substance the same" as that held on Saturday and so would break parliamentary rules.

He said MPs allowing another vote on the deal "would be repetitive and disorderly".

On Tuesday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the EU had done "all in our power" to ensure an orderly Brexit.

But Mr Juncker said the bloc would await British parliamentary approval for a divorce deal before ratifying it.

"At least we can look ourselves in the eyes and say that we have done all in our power to make sure that this departure is orderly," he said.

"We need now to watch events in Westminster very closely.

"It's not possible, not imaginable that this parliament will ratify the agreement before Westminster will have ratified the agreement."

To the surprise of some, Mr Johnson managed to renegotiate a withdrawal deal with the EU last week.

His predecessor Theresa May's proposed divorce agreement with Brussels was rejected by Parliament three times this year.

Mr Johnson succeeded in ditching the controversial Irish backstop, the insurance policy to prevent a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Parliamentary business will resume on Wednesday with the Queen's Speech debate.

Updated: October 23, 2019 12:46 AM

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