Boris Johnson today vowed not to beg for a Brexit extension after MPs passed up the opportunity for a fourth time to vote for a deal.
Despite frantic efforts, the PM failed to fend off an amendment tabled by former Cabinet minister Sir Oliver Letwin, which prevented his new package being put to a formal vote this afternoon.
Mr Johnson now faces being compelled by the Benn Act to ask the EU for a Brexit extension tonight – but he defiantly insisted he would not change his stance.
Responding to the result, he raged: ‘The best thing for the UK and for the whole of Europe is for us to leave with this new deal on October 31.
‘I will not negotiate a delay with the EU and neither does the law compel me to do so.’
He added: ‘No delays, and I will continue to do all I can to get Brexit done on October 31.’
Mr Johnson said his deal is not dead and he is expected to bring forward implementation legislation and hold a new vote on Tuesday.
He swiped: ‘The meaningful vote has been voided of meaning.’
But during angry scenes in the chamber, Jeremy Corbyn demanded the PM ‘obeys the law’ and asked the EU for an extension. Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson urged Speaker John Bercow to suspend the sitting so the PM could go and write the letter, and return to inform them it can be sent.
Downing Street flatly refused to say whether the PM would be penning the letter to Brussels, merely pointing reporters to the PM’s words in the House.
A spokeswoman for the European Commission said it ‘took note’ of the outcome this afternoon and was waiting for the UK to set out the ‘next steps’.
The government was condemned to defeat when 10 former Tories teamed up with Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP, the DUP and a rag-tag bag of independents. But in a boost for Mr Johnson, no current Conservative MPs rebelled.
The breakdown of the voting also underlined how close Mr Johnson is to putting together a majority for his deal in the House, with many of those who backed Letwin also saying they will support the deal when it comes to the crunch.
Tory whips had admitted beforehand that they were not hopeful of seeing off the Letwin amendment – which he insisted was only intended to stave off the threat of No Deal.
Mr Johnson held last-ditch meetings with the DUP, who have accused him of betrayal for striking a deal that undermines the union, as he pleaded with them to come to the rescue. But the overtures did not go down well, as the PM’s former allies wreaked revenge for being thrown under the bus. ‘They are not in a positive place,’ one government source said ruefully.
Kicking off the ‘Super Saturday’ showdown in the House of Commons earlier, Mr Johnson complained that there might not be a ‘meaningful’ decision for days longer.
He said it was ‘urgent’ for the country to get past the standoff and ‘unite’, saying his deal can ‘heal the rift in British politics’. ‘Now is the time for this great House of Commons to come together and bring the country together today,’ he insisted.
Mr Johnson warned the ‘scope for fruitful negotiation has run its course’. ‘It is now my judgement that we have reached the best possible solution,’ he said.
Ironically, the Letwin roadblock emerged just as the premier seemed to be on the brink of a breakthrough.
He has been boosted by the support of leading Tory ‘Spartan’ Mark Francois and ex-Cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith, and Steve Baker, head of the Eurosceptic ERG bloc, today urged his colleagues to fall into line.
There is mounting speculation that at least a dozen Labour MPs would support the package dramatically thrashed out with Brussels this week.
That would offset furious opposition from his former DUP allies and Mr Corbyn, and put the premier on the threshold of an historic triumph that could define the country for a generation.
However, despite polls showing the public is weary of three years of bitter wrangling after the referendum, an extraordinary piece of Parliamentary trickery deprived the PM of the ‘clean’ vote he craves on his deal.
Sir Oliver – who served in Cabinet under David Cameron – tabled an amendment that would effectively denied approval of the deal until after detailed implementation law has been passed.
Speaker John Bercow confirmed this morning that he had selected the change for debate, and it was passed with support from Labour and Lib Dem Remainers, many of whom still want a referendum to cancel Brexit altogether.
Letwin’s amendment did not outright kill the deal, making it easier for a range of MPs to endorse the amendment instead of giving the Prime Minister his moment of truth.
Labour MP Gareth Snell, who is widely expected to support the deal when it comes to a vote, told the Commons he would back the Letwin move.
However, it was angrily condemned by a series of other MPs including Labour’s Caroline Flint, who branded it a ‘panic measure’. She said the plot demonstrated that the ‘sponsors of the Benn Act had only one intention – to delay Brexit and stop it’.
In another day of high-stakes drama at the Houses of Parliament as the Brexit saga drew towards a culmination:
- Furious Tories turned on Sir Oliver branding him ‘too clever by half’ and accusing him of making the first Saturday sitting since the Falklands War ‘meaningless’;
- The chiefs of the Eurosceptic ERG bloc urged its MPs to back the PM in a key boost for the deal’s prospects. David Trimble, an architect of the Good Friday Agreement, has endorsed it;
- The DUP voiced anger, with deputy leader Nigel Dodds confronting Mr Johnson saying ‘weariness’ on Brexit is ‘no excuse for weakness on Brexit and weakness on the union’;
- Former chancellor Philip Hammond suggested he will oppose the deal, saying he would not be tricked into support a ‘camouflaged No Deal’ at the end of the transition period;
- Remainers kept pushing for a second referendum with Tony Blair urging MPs to be ‘patient’ and oppose the deal so that there would need to be another public ballot;
- European leaders watched closely after Emmanuel Macron and Leo Varadkar warned there was no guarantee that they will grant any request for an extension – suggesting MPs will have to choose between this deal and No Deal;
- Mr Johnson held out an olive branch to Labour MPs by pledging an automatic right to vote on whether to adopt future EU laws on workers’ rights;
Having failed to fend off the Letwin challenge, the rebel Benn Act dictates that he must beg the EU for an extension by tonight – breaking his ‘do or die’ vow to get the UK out of the bloc by October 31.
Mr Johnson seemed to accept during his statement to MPs this morning that he will send a letter asking for a delay. ‘Whatever letters they may seek to enforce the Government to write, it cannot change my judgement that further delay is pointless, expensive and deeply corrosive of public trust,’ he said.
But he pointedly avoided confirming that he would do so after the shattering vote this afternoon.
Source: Daily Mail