Johnson defiant as MPs delay Brexit deal approval

Johnson defiant as MPs delay Brexit deal approval

Parliamentary vote could force PM to seek three-month extension to exit from EU

A small group of Brexit supporters mingle with anti-Brexit demonstrators in Parliament Square in London, where Parliament was holding its first Saturday sitting in 37 years to debate the country’s exit from the EU. (AP Photo)
A small group of Brexit supporters mingle with anti-Brexit demonstrators in Parliament Square in London, where Parliament was holding its first Saturday sitting in 37 years to debate the country’s exit from the EU. (AP Photo)

LONDON: A defiant Boris Johnson says he will not negotiate a delay to Brexit, after lawmakers voted on Saturday to withhold approval for his agreement to leave the European Union until formal ratification legislation has passed.

If a deal is not approved by parliament by 11pm Saturday in London (5am Sunday Thailand time), Britain’s prime minister is required by law to ask the European Union for a three-month delay to Brexit.

“I will not negotiate a delay with the EU and neither does the law compel me to do so,” Johnson told parliament after the vote on Saturday afternoon.

“I will tell our friends and colleagues in the EU exactly what I have told everyone else in the last 88 days that I have served as prime minister: that further delay would be bad for this country, bad for the European Union and bad for democracy.” 

At the first Saturday sitting of Parliament since the Falklands war n 1982, lawmakers voted 322-306 to withhold approval until legislation to implement the agreement has been passed.

The vote aims to ensure that the UK can’t crash out of the EU without a divorce deal on the scheduled Oct 31 departure date. The government still hopes it can pass the needed legislation by the end of the month so the UK can leave on time.

Johnson said he was not “daunted or dismayed” by the result and would push ahead with plans to leave the EU.

As lawmakers debated, tens of thousands of anti-Brexit demonstrators descended on London to march to Parliament Square, demanding a new referendum on whether Britain should leave the EU or remain. Protesters, many wearing blue berets emblazoned with yellow stars symbolising the EU flag, poured out of subway trains and buses for the last-ditch protest effort.

Bruce Nicole, a vicar from Camberley southwest of London, said the Brexit deal would harm Britain.

“I fervently believe that we should remain in the EU,” he said. “I am British but I am also European.”

In Parliament before the vote, Johnson implored legislators to ratify the deal he struck this week with the bloc’s 27 other leaders. He said members of the House of Commons should “come together as democrats to end this debilitating feud” over Brexit, which has bitterly divided the country since British voters narrowly chose in a 2016 vote to leave the EU.

“Now is the time for this great House of Commons to come together … as I believe people at home are hoping and expecting,” Johnson told lawmakers.

But he did not get the result he sought.

Trouble began when House of Commons Speaker John Bercow said he would first allow a vote on an amendment that puts the vote on the deal off until another day.

The amendment makes support for the deal conditional on the legislation to implement it being passed by Parliament, something that could take several days or weeks. It also gives lawmakers another chance to scrutinise — and possibly change — the Brexit departure terms while the legislation is passing through Parliament.

Johnson called any delay to Britain’s Brexit departure date “pointless, expensive and deeply corrosive of public trust”.

And he warned that EU approval could not be guaranteed.

“There is very little appetite among our friends in the EU for this business to be protracted by one extra day,” Johnson said. “They have had three and a half years of this debate.”

French President Emmanuel Macron made the same point a day earlier in Brussels.

“I want us to finish this off and speak about the future,” Macron said. “The Oct 31 date must be respected. I don’t believe new delays should be granted.”

Johnson’s hopes of getting his deal through Parliament were already looking dim when his Northern Ireland ally, the Democratic Unionist Party, said it would not back him. The party says the Brexit package — which carves out special status for Northern Ireland to keep an open border with EU member Ireland — is bad for the region and weakens its bonds with the rest of the UK

To make up for the votes of 10 DUP lawmakers, Johnson has tried to persuade members of the main opposition Labour Party to support the deal. Late Friday the government promised to bolster protections for the environment and workers’ rights to allay Labour fears that the Conservative government plans to slash those protections after Brexit.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn dismissed those promises as inadequate.

“This deal is not good for jobs, damaging for industry and a threat to our environment and natural world,” he said. “Supporting the government this afternoon would merely fire the starting pistol in a race to the bottom in regulations and standards.”

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