UK Politics

Brexit: Boris Johnson in last push to get deal through

Boris Johnson speaking in the Commons Image copyright Reuters

Boris Johnson is urging MPs to back his Brexit deal in a final bid to get the UK to leave the EU in nine days' time.

MPs will vote on the PM's Withdrawal Agreement Bill and if they back it they will be asked to approve a three-day timetable to consider the legislation.

But the decision to curtail the scrutiny of the bill to three days has sparked anger from opposition MPs.

Mr Johnson told the Commons backing the deal meant MPs could "get Brexit done and move our country on".

But the BBC's Norman Smith said the PM looks set for a "deeply damaging" defeat over the timetable.

However, the prime minister seems on course to win an important symbolic victory with MPs poised to back his Brexit bill in principle, our assistant political editor added.

MPs will begin a number of votes on Mr Johnson's Withdrawal Agreement Bill, which was published on Monday, at about 19:00 BST.

Elsewhere, European Council President Donald Tusk has told the European Parliament in Strasbourg he is consulting the 27 EU leaders on how to react to the UK's request for a Brexit delay and "will decide in the coming days".

"I have no doubt that we should treat the British request for extension in all seriousness," he tweeted.

Ministers have insisted they are confident they have the numbers to get the Withdrawal Agreement Bill approved, despite losing a crunch Commons vote on Saturday aimed at ruling out a no-deal Brexit.

MPs believed by ministers to be ready to back the prime minister include pro-Leave Labour rebels and former Tory MPs now sitting as independents who would rather leave with Mr Johnson's deal than no deal at all.

If MPs back the bill, they will then vote on the government's "programme motion", which sets out the timetable for the legislation's passage through the Commons.

On Monday, Leader of the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg said: "People who do not vote for the programme motion will not be voting for Brexit on October 31."


Here it is. And here we go. The government has now published the pages and pages of new laws that need to be passed to make our departure from the EU happen.

Forget the meaningful vote, to get Brexit done - as the prime minister never tires of saying - this whole bundle of legislation has to pass.

The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill is a document of 110 pages that details exactly how Parliament is expected to put the deal that the prime minister agreed with his counterparts around the continent into UK law.

For Brexit watchers it is a big moment.

Read more from the BBC's political editor.


If the programme motion is approved, the bill will then move to the committee stage - which will continue on into Wednesday - when MPs will have the opportunity to put down amendments.

These are expected to include attempts to keep the UK more closely aligned with the EU through a customs union and to stage a second referendum.

Both are bitterly opposed by the government, raising the possibility that it could pull the bill altogether if either gets through.

Ahead of the debate, Mr Johnson said: "The public doesn't want any more delays, neither do other European leaders and neither do I.

"Let's get Brexit done on 31 October and move on."

However, Labour's shadow Brexit secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, accused ministers of trying to "bounce" MPs into approving a bill that could cause "huge damage" to the country.

What is the proposed timetable for the Withdrawal Agreement Bill?

Tuesday - second reading - MPs' first chance to debate the bill and vote for its continued passage. If passed at second reading, committee stage begins the same day.

Wednesday and Thursday - committee stage - where detailed examination of the bill takes place and specific amendments - on a fresh referendum, for example - can be tabled and voted on. The bill then moves on to report stage, which offers further opportunities for amendments before it moves to third reading. This is MPs' final chance to debate the bill before voting on whether to approve it.

If approved, it then moves to the Lords to begin a similar scrutiny process.

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said Labour was "outraged" by the government's attempt to push the bill through in a short time.

"When I did the Health and Social Care Act, which was a major piece of legislation, it took three months," the Labour MP told BBC Breakfast.

"In order for politicians to do their job properly, we do need to have time," she added.

Image caption Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said her party was "outraged" by the government's behaviour

The SNP's Pete Wishart also condemned a lack of economic impact assessments of the deal ahead of the attempt to pass the legislation.

Ex-Tory MP Rory Stewart, who lost the party whip when he voted in support of the Benn Act, said he would back Mr Johnson's bill in principle but wanted to ensure Parliament had a "normal" amount of time to debate it.

"We need to finish this in the proper way, and if we're going to deliver Brexit, we need to deliver it in a way that Brexiteers and Remainers believe was taken through Parliament fairly," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

But Mr Rees-Mogg said other acts had been brought and passed with short notice.

"A king emperor left in 24 hours, and we are removing an imperial yoke in over a week," he added.

And Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told BBC Breakfast that Parliament "can move pretty quickly" and has already had 500 hours of debate on Brexit.

"So most MPs, frankly, are very familiar with the vast majority of issues that are in this bill," he said.

Image copyright JESSICA TAYLOR
Image caption Jacob Rees-Mogg presenting the programme motion to the Commons on Monday

What is in the Withdrawal Agreement Bill?

The 110-page document will give legal effect to the withdrawal deal negotiated by Mr Johnson.

His plan ditches the backstop - the controversial measure designed to prevent a return to physical checks on the Irish border.

Instead it essentially draws a new customs border in the Irish Sea, as goods which could travel onwards to Ireland will have to pay a duty tax.

It also will see the whole of the UK leave the EU customs union, meaning it could strike trade deals with other countries in the future.

The WAB will also turn any agreed transition period into law, fulfil requirements on the rights of EU citizens in the UK after Brexit, and allow ministers to make "divorce payments" to the EU foreseen under the current deal.

But MPs will be able to vote on amendments - changes or add-ons - to the bill.

If the government cannot get the bill through Parliament, the default legal position is for the UK to leave without a deal on 31 October, but that will change if the EU grants an extension.

Boris Johnson's Brexit deal

Image copyright AFP

KEY POINTS: What's new in the deal?

PEOPLE'S VIEW: Do voters support the deal?

EXPLAINED: What is the Withdrawal Agreement Bill?

IN GRAPHICS: What happens now?

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Media captionBrexit: What actually happened on Saturday?

Tuesday's votes come after Mr Johnson failed to get the agreement he reached with the EU last week signed off in the Commons on Saturday.

MPs instead backed an amendment withholding their approval until the bill has faced the scrutiny of both the Commons and the Lords and been passed into law.

The amendment worked alongside the so-called Benn Act, which required the prime minister to ask the EU for an extension to the 31 October deadline to prevent a no-deal Brexit.

Following Saturday's developments, Mr Johnson sent an unsigned letter asking for the delay, along with a signed letter saying why he did not agree with any further delays.

There has been no official word from the EU yet on whether the bloc will grant a delay or what length it would be.

Mr Tusk said the result of his consultation with EU leaders "will very much depend on what the British parliament decides or doesn't decide".


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