UK MPs force Johnson to request Brexit extension in new defeat

UK lawmakers inflicted an embarrassing procedural defeat on Boris Johnson on Saturday (19  October) that will force the UK Prime Minister to request an extension from EU leaders. [EPA-EFE/JESSICA TAYLOR / UK PARLIAMENT / HANDOUT]

UK lawmakers inflicted an embarrassing procedural defeat on Boris Johnson on Saturday (19  October), forcing the UK Prime Minister to request a Brexit extension from EU leaders.

Instead of voting on the new Brexit deal secured by Johnson in Brussels last week, MPs passed an amendment tabled by a cross-party group of MPs by 322 votes to 306 – a majority of 16. Under UK law, that forces Johnson to request a three month extension to the Article 50 process, keeping the UK in the EU until January 31, 2020.

However, the Prime Minister’s office is still refusing to confirm whether he will comply.

“I will not negotiate a delay with the EU and neither does the law compel me to do so”, Johnson told MPs following the vote.

If the request is not made by 11pm tonight, a Scottish court is expected to rule on Monday on whether to give Johnson 24 hours to do so or face being held in contempt of court.

On Saturday, MPs from Labour and the Liberal Democrats urged the Prime Minister to send the letter to EU Council President Donald Tusk, requesting an extension.

“The Prime Minister must acknowledge that he will abide by the Benn Act and make sure we do not crash out with no-deal, therefore there has to be an application for an extension,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said. Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson echoed these calls and implored Johnson to send the letter without delay.

Although Johnson managed to persuade Conservative hard Brexiteers to support him, the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party and all opposition lawmakers bar six Labour MPs opposed the deal, as well as ten former Conservatives.

Kicking off a five hour debate, Johnson urged MPs to back the deal and then start the process of healing the UK’s political divisions.

The Johnson government plans to proceed with votes on the implementing legislation tied to the Brexit deal in the coming days, with the Prime Minister saying that he hopes lawmakers will support it in “overwhelming numbers”, but the vote puts the ball in the EU’s court.  if the UK is to avoid crashing out of the bloc on October 31.

In a statement, the European Commission said that it “takes note of the vote in the House of Commons today on the so-called Letwin amendment meaning that the withdrawal agreement 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.”

Meanwhile, Guy Verhofstadt, who chairs the Brexit Steering Group in the European Parliament, tweeted that MEPs would consider the outcome of the vote on Monday, when they are set to convene at 3pm in Strasbourg.

In Paris, a statement from the French Presidency read that a delay to Brexit was “in nobody’s interest.”

Back in Brussels, EU ambassadors will consider the consequences of the vote on Sunday. Although UK law requires Johnson to request a three month extension, the circumstances mean that the EU could insist on a much shorter, technical extension. If they do not grant an extension, the UK will trade with the EU on World Trade Organisation terms after October 31.

Outside Westminster, hundreds of thousands of protestors demanding a new referendum gathered for a rally outside Westminster.

“The success of this amendment shows that MPs do not trust Boris Johnson not to run the country off a No-Deal cliff-edge a year down the line,” said Naomi Smith, the CEO of Best for Britain, which campaigns for a new referendum.

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