British MPs rejected Boris Johnson’s three-day Brexit legislation timetable by 322 votes to 308 on Tuesday evening.
It’s a major blow to the UK prime minister’s wish to deliver Brexit by October 31. Johnson said after the motion to accelerate the deal failed that he would “pause” the Brexit legislation.
Earlier, parliamentarians gave the Brexit legislation its first nod of approval in parliament, voting 329 to 299 to approve the second reading of the 110-page withdrawal bill.
Johnson said earlier in the day during the first debate on the bill in the House of Commons that Downing Street would pull the Brexit bill and push for an early election in the event that MPs rejects the legislation’s timetable and the EU accepts a delay.
“If Parliament refuses to allow Brexit to happen and instead gets its way and decides to delay everything until January or possibly longer, in no circumstances can the government continue with this and with great regret… I must say that the bill will have to be pulled and we will have to go forward…to a general election,” Johnson said.
The government wanted to rush through the legislation in just three days, moving to the report stage and third reading by Thursday.
Hannah White, from the Institute of Government, wrote in a blog post that the timeline would be “deeply inadequate for any major piece of government legislation”.
On Monday, Johnson failed in his attempt to bring the new Brexit deal for a straight ‘yes or no’ vote. The House of Commons passed on Saturday an amendment that would see MPs withhold their approval until the Prime Minister brought forth viable legislation before Parliament.
The EU seemed poised to offer a Brexit extension on Tuesday evening with Council President Donald Tusk tweeting that he would recommend that EU leaders grant the Brexit extension.
A ‘ludicrous’ timeline
During the House of Commons debate, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called Johnson’s timeline for the bill “ludicrous” saying that they had only received the bill the night before they started the debate.
Corbyn said the Labour party would vote against the second reading of the bill, stating that the Conservatives were “paving the way for a Trump-style trade deal”.
“What on earth are we doing pushing this legislation through over a couple of days?” asked the SNP’s Ian Blackford. “And I do appeal to everybody…let this house do its job and let us have proper scrutiny.”
Former Conservative MP Rory Stewart said people deserved scrutiny saying they could not “pretend” two and a half days was long enough to go through it.
But Johnson worked to gain votes in the House of Commons, saying: “Is there anyone who seriously believes that the EU would reopen the withdrawal agreement again?… The deal on the table is the one contained in this bill.”
He said if the House of Commons delayed any further, “the paralysis” would continue.
Conservative rebel MP Oliver Letwin said he would vote for the programme motion for fear that the government would pull the Brexit legislation if the timeline is rejected.
Jo Swinson, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said “there are people who will use this to break up our family of nations and we must not let them do that,” calling out Johnson for having “agreed to a deal which will see a border down the Irish sea”.
The DUP’s Sammy Wilson lashed out at the Prime Minister, saying that he could not support the bill despite wanting to leave the EU, because he wanted Northern Ireland to leave on the same terms as the rest of the United Kingdom.
“I nearly choked when the Prime Minister said it when he told us well don’t worry about it because all of these changes that will affect Northern Ireland will be light touch… The Prime Minister thinks I can’t read the agreement that’s been published.”
It came after Johnson said there would be “no checks”, but some “light touch” measures between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, a statement which received a large reaction from the Commons.
“[The measures] automatically dissolve unless a majority of the Northern Irish assembly in Stormont votes to keep them,” he said, calling the measures “transitory”.
Labour MP Liz Kendall told Boris Johnson that he had not made a choice about whether to follow EU rules or not and said he was just “continuing the agony for years to come”.
Many MPs were dismayed that the government had not done an impact assessment of the deal.
Labour MP Hilary Benn said he was “very very surprised that the govt has just blithely said we are not going to undertake an economic assessment and I assume the reason for that is very simple.”
“They did one before which showed that a free trade agreement is the second-worst outcome for the economy after no-deal.”
Former Conservative MP Dominic Grieve said he would vote for a second referendum but will vote against both the Brexit bill and programme motion. Labour MP David Lammy echoed those calls saying he was prepared to vote for a deal if it went back to the British people.
Boris Johnson started off the debate by defending his Brexit deal, stating that the UK would have the “highest possible standards” and “keep pace” with Brussels on environmental standards. But some MPs expressed doubts that Johnson was being truthful.