Boris Johnson puts his Brexit plans on hold after hammer blow Commons defeat

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Boris Johnson’s plans to take Britain out of the EU in just nine days’ time – “do or die” – have hit the buffers after a humiliating Commons defeat.

On a dramatic night at Westminster, MPs threw out his plan to ram legislation through the Commons approving his deal with the EU in just three days by 322 votes to 308.

It effectively put paid to his promise – “no ifs, no buts” – to take Britain out of the EU by October 31 and means Brexit could be delayed until next year.

The result leaves the Prime Minister effectively at the mercy of EU leaders who will decide whether to grant Britain a further extension – and for how long – in order to allow it to leave with a deal.

European Council president Donald Tusk said he would recommend they agree a further delay in order to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

However, a No 10 source indicated that if the Prime Minister was forced to accept a delay until the new year, he would push for a general election instead.

“On Saturday Parliament asked for a delay until January and today Parliament blew its last chance,” the source said.

“If Parliament’s delay is agreed by Brussels, then the only way the country can move on is with an election. This Parliament is broken.”

Following the vote, Mr Johnson said he would “pause” the legislation while he consulted with EU leaders on what should happen next.

Just minutes earlier MPs voted to back the deal in principle by 329 to 299 on the second reading of the Bill – the first time the Commons has been prepared to support any Brexit deal.

House of Commons vote: EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill – Programme motion
(PA Graphics)

He insisted that it was still his policy that Britain should leave at Halloween but acknowledged that he would have wait to hear what EU leaders said.

Under the terms of the so-called Benn Act, Mr Johnson was forced to write to the EU at the weekend seeking an extension to the end of January after failing to win the support of the Commons at Saturday’s special sitting.

The Prime Minister told MPs: “We now face further uncertainty and the EU must now make up their minds over how to answer Parliament’s request for a delay.

“One way or another we will leave the EU with this deal to which this House has just given its assent.”

In response, Mr Tusk tweeted: “Following PM Boris Johnson’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.”

Irish premier Leo Varadkar welcomed the backing in principle of a “clear majority” of MPs for the deal.

“We will now await further developments from London and Brussels about next steps including timetable for the legislation and the need for an extension,” he said.

The Government went down to a defeat despite a threat by Mr Johnson to pull the whole Bill and go for a general election if the timetable motion was lost and MPs tried to “delay everything until January or even longer”.

Ministers had hoped that they could win over a combination of enough pro-Brexit Labour rebels and former Tory MPs who had had the whip withdrawn and feared a no-deal Brexit, to win both votes.

But while 19 Labour MPs went for the Bill at second reading, only five supported the timetable motion.

In contrast, nine ex-Conservatives who now sit as independents – including former cabinet ministers Ken Clarke, Philip Hammond and Rory Stewart – voted against the timetable motion.

With the 10 MPs of Mr Johnson’s erstwhile allies in the DUP also voting against the timetable – as well as the second reading – it left him without a majority.

The results mean that Mr Johnson has now won just two of 12 votes in Parliament since he became Prime Minister in July.

Jeremy Corbyn said that Labour was prepared to work with the Government to agree “a reasonable timetable” to enable the Commons to debate and scrutinise the legislation properly.

“That would be the sensible way forward, and that’s the offer I make on behalf of the opposition tonight,” he said.

The Labour leader’s offer potentially opens the way for Parliament to approve the Bill before the end of the year, offering Mr Johnson the possibility of taking Britain out with a deal.

It also opens up increased opportunities for MPs to seek to amend the legislation in ways the Government would find unacceptable.

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