Prime Minister Boris Johnson will today have to fend off an attempt to wreck his “deal or no-deal” Brexit vote as a group of lawmakers propose to delay giving parliament’s backing for his new exit agreement.
Johnson confounded his opponents on Thursday by clinching a new deal with the EU, even though the bloc had promised it would never reopen a treaty it agreed last year. But that was only half the challenge.
He now has to persuade parliament, where he does not have a majority, to back the deal, and has convened the country’s first Saturday sitting in 37 years in order to do so.
That vote could be in doubt because expelled Conservative lawmaker, Oliver Letwin, has proposed that the decision to back a deal or not be deferred until separate legislation to implement the terms of the deal has passed through parliament.
This proposal, known as an amendment, will be put to a vote at the end of today’s debate if selected by Speaker John Bercow.
If the amendment is approved by parliament, Johnson’s deal would not then be put to a vote today.
The amendment has the support of members from several different parties, some of whom want to delay Brexit.
The law states that if Johnson has not secured approval for his deal by today, he must write to the EU requesting a delay to Brexit until January 31, 2020.
The move by Letwin, who says he supports the deal, is seen as an attempt to close a loophole whereby Britain could end up leaving the EU without a deal if one is approved today, but the legislation to implement it is blocked or delayed.
Letwin was among 21 lawmakers expelled from the Conservative Party last month after they rebelled against Johnson in a bid to prevent a no-deal Brexit.
He said: “My aim is to ensure that Boris’s deal succeeds, but that we have an insurance policy which prevents the UK from crashing out on October 31 by mistake if something goes wrong during the passage of the implementing legislation.”
The Letwin amendment would not completely crush Johnson’s hopes of leaving on October 31.
If he can get the necessary implementation legislation through parliament in time — which he says he can, but others see as a stretch — then Britain could still leave on schedule.
The opposition Labour Party has not said whether it will support the amendment, but doing so would be consistent with their opposition to Johnson’s exit deal.
The Scottish National Party said they would probably back the amendment.
Meanwhile supporters of Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar will urge him to call a snap election if Britain can seal its departure from the European Union, four members of his Fine Gael party said.
Varadkar’s minority government, run via a co-operation deal with the main opposition Fianna Fail party, was supposed to last only until the end of 2018 but its lifespan was extended as Dublin took on a pivotal role in Brexit talks.
Varadkar could try to capitalise on what is likely to be hailed in Ireland as a diplomatic success if British lawmakers today ratify the Brexit deal reached with the EU and leave by the end of October, the four members said.
The centre-right Fine Gael are primed for an election, they said on condition of anonymity as Varadkar has publicly stated he wants to hold a poll next May.
A fifth party source said that a lot of colleagues had discussed the prospect of an election this week though he expected Varadkar to stick to the May 2020 timetable.
Asked about the clamour among lawmakers and party supporters to hold an election if the Brexit agreement is passed, one of the first four party sources said: “It’s significant.”
“When we thought about going on previous occasions, there was some kickback. There doesn’t seem to be any amongst colleagues. I imagine they are going home this weekend and getting their troops together,” the source said.
If Prime Minister Johnson fails to win the vote in parliament today, continued Brexit instability would shut the window for a snap poll in Ireland, all five said.
Varadkar has more reason to call an election if the British parliament backs the deal today because his approval rating rose 15 points to 51% in an opinion poll following a meeting with Johnson last week that preceded the Brexit breakthrough.
The 40-year-old premier’s personal rating has shot up at any potential sign of success during the Brexit talks and the poll suggested he was by far the country’s most popular leader.
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