In a historic Saturday session for UK parliament, the first since the Falklands war, today British lawmakers were supposed to vote on Boris Johnson's Brexit deal which last week received approval from the EU, and which sent the pound soaring amid speculation that a Brexit deal was actually close to passing. Instead, in the latest embarrassment to Johnson, moments ago UK lawmakers instead voted to put off a decision on the Prime Minister’s deal, forcing him to ask the EU for another Brexit delay.
The measure, also known, as the Letwin amendment, was proposed by Oliver Letwin, an MP who was booted out of the Conservative parliamentary party last month by Boris Johnson when he supported anti no-deal legislation known as the Benn Act. The amendment - which received the support of the Northern Irish DUP party in the last minute - called for the House to "withhold support" from Johnson's plan until all of the legislation required to implement the bill is passed by Parliament as well.
And so with DUP support, the measure passed 322 to 306 effectively freezing the Brexit process once again, as Johnson is now legally obliged to request a Brexit extension from the EU if he can't pass his plan by 11 p.m. local time tonight (6 p.m. ET), which he can't.
MPs approve Letwin amendment to the Brexit deal— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) October 19, 2019
This amendment delays approval of the deal until the necessary legislation is passed
Live updates: https://t.co/gQkqnzl6R4 #BrexitVote pic.twitter.com/lfsqqiw5pU
Having just come back from Europe - ostensibly with a deal in tow and with Belgium saying no more delays are feasible - Boris Johnson will now have to once again ask the EU to delay the Brexit process.
Perhaps not surprisingly, a defiant Johnson has struck back and is now refusing to comply with the latest parliamentary vote, and the Prime Minister's office is now saying that "Parliament has voted to delay brexit yet again. The PM will not ask for an extension - he will tell EU leaders there should be no delays, they should reject Parliament's letter asking for a delay, and we should get Brexit done on October 31 with our new deal."
Boris Johnson remains defiant after MPs back Brexit deal delay!https://t.co/O5tubS2Ahu— Metro (@MetroUK) October 19, 2019
As ITV's Robert Peston notes, "Boris Johnson will characterise the request for a three-month Brexit delay as coming from parliament, not from him as government head. And he will reiterate to EU leaders that he does not want a delay" with questions emerging if this is legal.
Downing St makes clear that @BorisJohnson will characterise the request for a three-month Brexit delay as coming from parliament, not from him as government head. And he will reiterate to EU leaders that he does not want a delay. Is this lawful? The Court of Session... pic.twitter.com/c6UfkNvK0z— Robert Peston (@Peston) October 19, 2019
As the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg adds, now that today's deal vote has been iced, BoJo confirms next week the government will put the bill of the whole deal in front of MPs - and confirms that he will make clear that he will still try to avoid delay, even tho he is legally obliged to ask for one, something the BBC reporter calls a "legal tightrope."
PM confirms next week govt will put the bill of the whole deal in front of MPs - and confirms that he will make clear that he will still try to avoid delay, even tho he is legally obliged to ask for one - legal tightrope— Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) October 19, 2019
In other words, Johnson may simply "ignore" the law that is now forcing him to delay Brexit: "Alas, the opportunity to have a meaningful vote has effectively been passed up," Johnson said in Parliament, after losing the vote. "The meaningful vote has been voided of meaning."
"I'm not dismayed by this particular result," Johnson said, adding that "The best thing for the UK and for the whole of Europe is for us to leave with this new deal on October 31."
He then warned he may not follow the Benn Act, which mandates him to now request a Brexit delay tonight.
"I will not negotiate a delay with the EU, and neither does the law compel me to do so," he says. "Further delay will be bad for this country."
Boris Johnson says the opportunity to have a meaningful Brexit vote "has been passed up"— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) October 19, 2019
UK PM says he's not "daunted or dismayed" by MPs backing Letwin amendment, saying he "will not negotiate a delay to Brexit"https://t.co/VAzJ7IQqgO #BrexitVote pic.twitter.com/Z8yqI2Uxgy
And so, once again the legal wrangling begins:
There is going to be a lot of arguing over what the difference is between asking for a delay and actually negotiating one - Benn Act is not explicit about negotiation but there is important principle at stake of not frustrating the law
Immediately after the vote, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn warned Johnson that he will find himself in court, if he "breaks the law."
"Today is a historic day for Parliament," Corbyn said , adding that MPs "will not be blackmailed by the Prime Minister."
"I invite him to think very carefully about the remarks he just made," Corbyn warned.
The SNP's Ian Blackford followed Corbyn, also saying that if Johnson "thinks he's above the law ... prime minister, you'll find yourself in court."
And Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat leader, asks the Speaker of the House to suspend the sitting so Johnson can send the letter to the EU requesting an extension -- a request which is denied.
Meanwhile, the fate of Brexit has been tossed back into the arms of the EU, who now have to decide if to accept the UK parliament's demand for a delay...
🇪🇺🇬🇧 @EU_Commission takes note of the vote in the House of Commons today on the so-called #Letwin Amendment meaning that the #WithdrawalAgreement itself was not put to vote today. It will be for the UK government to inform us about the next steps as soon as possible.— Mina Andreeva (@Mina_Andreeva) October 19, 2019
... even as a UK court will likely have to opine on whether BoJo can once again ignore the decision of parliament...
But don't all scream at once, No 10 still thinks that they can try to find a way round it - as was always the case wouldn't be surprised if this all ended up back in court before too long...— Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) October 19, 2019
... even as the Conservative party appears to have just walked out...
Tory benches have now emptied..... pic.twitter.com/dVPIsOLx6l— norman smith (@BBCNormanS) October 19, 2019
... as the usual Brexit chaos has returned.