Boris Johnson is launching an absolutely frantic race to rush his Brexit deal through Parliament in three days despite it running to more than 100 pages.
He faces fury for devoting barely any time to the mammoth Bill that will encode decades of EU law into UK law and give ministers sweeping powers over the future.
It comes after John Bercow blocked a bid to hold a new simple ‘yes-no’ vote on his deal and instead said turned focus to a full Act of Parliament.
The EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill has now been published and has a host of issues and problems which MPs have barely any time to sort out.
Sittings will go to beyond midnight in Parliament in a bid to resolve it.
So what on earth has happened, what is Erskine May, what happens now and will we leave the EU by October 31?
Here’s everything you need to know.
What happened on Monday?
Boris Johnson tried to put his Brexit deal to a ‘clean’ yes or no vote – for a second time in three days – but was blocked in a ruling by the House of Commons Speaker.
The Prime Minister wanted a fresh start after the first vote, on Saturday, ended in him being voted down and forced to ask for a Brexit delay instead.
But John Bercow scuppered the PM’s plans by saying having a new vote would go against Commons procedure.
That is because Parliament’s rules clearly says MPs can’t be given a two votes on the same matter in the same Parliamentary session, unless circumstances change.
Speaker Bercow said since there’s been little change since 48 hours ago, “the motion will not be debated today as it would be repetitive and disorderly to do so.”
Does this mean the Brexit deal is dead?
Whatever happened, the PM’s Brexit deal would still have to be agreed by Parliament through a law called the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB).
Only if the bill passes will it complete the legal process of Brexit – allowing Mr Johnson to retract or cut short his reluctant request to the EU for an extension.
So what happens now?
(Image: Kiran Ridley)
Late on Monday night the government published the Withdrawal Agreement BIll ahead of its first debate in the House of Commons on Tuesday.
This is the full-blown legislation that encodes Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal into law and runs to more than 100 pages of complex legal language.
Boris Johnson will attempt to race through all the Commons stages of the Bill on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday with very late-night sittings:
- Tuesday: Key ‘first hurdle’ vote at 7pm followed by 3 hours of amendments.
- Wednesday: 12 hours for amendments from 1pm culminating in a 1am vote on a second referendum.
- Thursday: 8 hours for the final stages and final vote finishing at around 7.30pm.
The first key hurdle vote is expected to pass, probably, but that’s where things get difficult – because the first vote is only on the principle of the Bill. The devil’s in the detail.
After (well, if) the first vote is passed on Tuesday, Tory Jacob Rees-Mogg will introduce the ‘programme motion’ – the government’s proposed order of business for week. It could spell out late night and weekend sittings in a bid to get the WAB passed.
This is a risky moment – as MPs can vote to take control of the agenda, denying the government the opportunity to bring the WAB to its next stage.
Even if they manage to keep control of the agenda in the Commons MPs will then propose amendments to the WAB by 7pm Tuesday. More of this below.
If the government wants to avoid a delay it must ensure that the WAB is passed by the end of the week – and without amendments that change its purpose completely.
Any later and the delay becomes more likely as the European Parliament has indicated it will not have the time to scrutinise the deal ahead of Halloween.
Will the Brexit deal get through Parliament?
(Image: Kiran Ridley)
The first big vote on Tuesday (the ‘second reading’) will be on a knife edge.
Downing Street believes it has the numbers, with many of 21 ousted Tories – plus 6 to 10 Labour backbenchers – in favour even though Labour and the DUP are against.
Former Tory cabinet minister Amber Rudd has indicated she would support Mr Johnson’s deal and thought there was a “coalition for getting the Prime Minister’s deal through”.
Meanwhile Labour MP Caroline Flint has already said she will back the deal – and she may carry some of the Labour ‘MPs for a Deal’ with her.
But there’s a massive spanner in the works to come.
As part of the process MPs have the opportunity to debate possible amendments.
These are likely to be on whether to add a customs union, a second referendum and to extend transitional arrangements with the EU to prevent the UK crashing out in 2020.
This could radically change the shape of the deal that was negotiated with the EU – possibly prompting No10 to pull the deal altogether, plunging Britain into limbo or no-deal and pushing for an election.
Jacob Rees-Mogg insisted: “The Bill of course won’t be pulled.” But government briefings suggested otherwise.
MPs like Lisa Nandy have said they would not back the whole deal as it stands, but seek to amend it. Various groups in parliament are hurriedly planning to put forward amendments which could complicate things.
Will Brexit still happen on October 31?
(Image: Dan Kitwood)
It is possible.
Mr Johnson might still get his deal through Parliament in time for the deadline, wiping out the need for delay.
And secondly, a final decision on whether to delay Brexit hasn’t been made yet – it’s in 27 EU leaders’ hands.
The Prime Minister and his ally Michael Gove have insisted they can still get Brexit through by October 31, and even claim no-deal is still possible.
Mr Gove chaired a meeting of the no-deal planning committee on Sunday and “triggered” emergency plan Operation Yellowhammer, moving hundreds of civil servants off their day jobs into full-time operation centres.
If MPs agree the deal before the end of the week then it possible that the European Parliament can complete its votes in time for Halloween.
But every day makes it less likely that deal will be approved in Westminster, and Brussels before the end of the month.
Will EU leaders delay Brexit?
They will almost certainly grant an extension – despite making noises to the contrary.
But they could turn down the three-month suggested period to suggest a different one instead.
Today the European Parliament shelved their own vote on the deal because they want to wait for the UK parliament to pass the Withdrawal Agreement Bill.
They want an extension – but the EU is very keen not to be held responsible for any delay so would seek an extra EU Parliament session to vote on the deal next week.
French President Emmanuel Macron went furthest. “I am not trying to read into the future but I do not think we shall grant any further delay,” he said last week
They are certainly annoyed to have their own plans disrupted yet again, but very few people seriously expect the EU to say no if a request comes in.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is among those who has indicated as much.
The big question is how long an extension would be. Would they grant just two weeks of “technical” extension to allow the withdrawal bill legislation to pass through Parliament?
Or would they insist on a longer one – until the end of January as set out in the Benn Act perhaps – to give the UK time to resolve this once and for all.
Will Boris Johnson be forced to accept an extension?
Yes – if MPs do not vote it down in Parliament.
That is, at least, according to the terms of the Benn Act which the PM could try to subvert or somehow get around.
Remind me, what happened on Saturday again?
(Image: UK PARLIAMENT/AFP via Getty Imag)
Boris Johnson put forward a motion to give a green or red light to his Brexit deal.
But MPs voted to amend his motion, to withhold approval for the Brexit deal “unless and until” every part of it has been passed into UK law. The amended motion passed without a formal vote because Boris Johnson refused to take part.
Tory ministers claimed that rendered the vote on Saturday meaningless. This is simply untrue. MPs stated their view – and refused to back the PM’s deal as it is now.
What is Erskine May and how is it relevant?
(Image: UK PARLIAMENT/AFP via Getty Images)
Parliament’s enormous, baffling rule book – which John Bercow is meant to follow.
It says on page 397: “A motion or an amendment which is the same, in substance, as a question which has been decided during a session may not be brought forward again during that same session.”
Effectively that means Boris Johnson couldn’t hold two votes in the same year on the same issue unless the circumstances changed.
Speaker Bercow said the government had offered no “explanation” of how the circumstances had changed since Saturday.
Even if the difference was asking for a delay, “this is not persuasive”, the Speaker said. He added: “Today’s motion is in substance the same as Saturday’s motion and the House has decided the matter”.
How significant or shocking is Speaker Bercow’s ruling?
(Image: AFP/Getty Images)
Not very significant and not very shocking – despite what Brexiteers might claim.
First of all, Speaker Bercow was widely expected to make today’s ruling because the PM’s behaviour was seen by many as being outside the rules.
Secondly, it doesn’t actually make any meaningful difference to whether Brexit will pass – more of this below.
Despite this, Brexiteers voiced fury at the Speaker – who they believe is biased – as Tory Bernard Jenkin sniped: “It’s remarkable how often you please one lot and not the other lot”.
And David T C Davies fumed: “[Your rulings] always seem to favour one side of the argument and never the government.”
Critics suggested Boris Johnson – who shamefully dodged the Commons session altogether – only tried for today’s vote in the first place so he could cynically accuse Parliament of thwarting Brexit.
What does all this mean for an election?
If MPs spend the next two weeks legislating on Brexit, a general election cannot be held before Christmas.
Labour is unlikely to trigger a confidence vote, which could collapse Boris Johnson’s administration, while the legislative process is ongoing.
And because of the five-weeks legally needed between the calling of a snap ballot and a poll being held, taking up parliamentary time until Halloween mean the earliest ballot would be held is in January.
That is because Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill has reportedly warned an election should not take place after December 12 in the run-up to Christmas.
But early January will not see an election either because no-one wants the festive season to be overshadowed by electoral campaigning.
So the next likely date would be mid-February.
Boris Johnson finally agreed a Brexit deal with the EU on 17 October 2019, though it still needs approval by MPs.
The 64-page list of amendments keeps a transition period up to 31 December 2020 and the £39bn divorce bill. But it scraps the Irish backstop, an insurance policy designed at preventing a hard border between Northern Ireland the Republic.
In the backstop’s place would effectively be ‘two borders’ in a hybrid system:
- Northern Ireland and Britain would share a legal customs territory – technically forcing customs checks on goods crossing the 310-mile border with the Republic. But in practice, to avoid checks at the border, the checks will instead happen when goods reach Northern Ireland on the island of Ireland. Critics say this puts a customs border across the Irish Sea – more of this below.
Northern Ireland and the Republic would share some EU single market rules – forcing checks on manufactured and agricultural products crossing the Irish Sea.
The Northern Ireland Assembly – known as Stormont – will get a vote every four years on whether to let EU law continue. But this vote could be passed by a simple majority – denying the DUP a veto on staying under EU laws long-term.
Meanwhile commitments on workers’ rights are deprioritised – moved to the non-legally-binding Political Declaration for agreement later.
For a full explainer click here.