British prime minister tries again for vote on EU divorce deal
Johnson has been forced to ask the EU for a three-month delay to Britain's departure date.
LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson attempted for a second time to secure lawmakers’ backing for his European Union divorce deal Oct. 21 as Parliament geared up for a grueling week of political warfare over Brexit.
With just 10 days to go until the UK is due to leave the bloc on Oct. 31, Johnson’s government planned to ask for a “straight up-and-down vote” on his EU divorce agreement, which changes how both sides handle the Irish border. That request comes two days after lawmakers voted to delay approving the Brexit deal.
But House of Commons Speaker John Bercow could refuse to allow such a vote because parliamentary rules generally bar the same measure from being considered a second time during the same session of Parliament unless something has changed.
Johnson’s Conservative government will also introduce the legislation necessary to implement the Brexit agreement it struck with the EU last week. The government hopes to get that done by Britain’s scheduled Oct. 31 departure date. But it’s unclear whether the bill can win majority backing in Parliament, and opposition lawmakers will try to seek amendments that could alter or scuttle it.
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay urged lawmakers to back the bill and – more than three years after British voters narrowly voted to leave the EU – “enable us to move onto the people’s priorities like health, education and crime.”
“This is the chance to leave the EU with a deal on Oct. 31,” he said. “If Parliament wants to respect the referendum, it must back the bill.”
With the Brexit deadline looming and British politicians still squabbling over the country’s departure terms, Johnson has been forced to ask the EU for a three-month delay to Britain’s departure date.
He did that, grudgingly, to comply with a law passed by Parliament ordering the government to postpone Brexit rather than risk the economic damage that could come from a no-deal exit. But Johnson accompanied the unsigned letter to the EU late on Oct. 19 with a second note saying that he personally opposed delaying the UK’s Oct. 31 exit.
Pro-EU activists, who took the government to court in Scotland to ensure that it complied with the law, said the second letter might amount to an attempt to frustrate the legislation. Scotland’s highest court said it would keep the case open, retaining the power to censure Johnson’s Conservative government until its obligations under the law have been complied with “in full.”
The claimants’ lawyer, Elaine Motion, said the ruling meant “the sword of Damocles remains hanging” over the government.
The bloc said the fact Johnson had not signed the letter was irrelevant.
European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said that European Council President Donald Tusk had acknowledged receiving the Brexit extension request and was now talking with the EU’s other 27 leaders about it.
Those 27 EU leaders are weary of the long-running Brexit saga but also want to avoid a no-deal British exit, which would damage economies on both sides of the Channel.
Germany’s economy minister suggested it could be a few days before the EU decided to respond to the Brexit delay request.
“We will have somewhat more clarity in the coming days, and we will then exercise our responsibility and quickly make a decision,” Germany’s Peter Altmaier said.
He told Deutschlandfunk radio that he wouldn’t have a problem with an extension by “a few days or a few weeks” if that rules out a no-deal Brexit.
But French President Emmanuel Macron, who had a phone call with Johnson over the weekend, called for a quick clarification of the UK’s position. In a statement, he said a delay “would not be in any party’s interest.”
France’s junior minister for European affairs, Amelie de Montchalin, told French news broadcaster BFM TV there would have to be some reason for the delay, such as a parliamentary election in Britain or a new British referendum on Brexit.
The British government still hopes it can pass the needed Brexit legislation by the end of the month so the U.K. can leave on time.
But it suffered a setback on Saturday – Parliament’s first weekend sitting since the 1982 Falklands War – when British lawmakers voted to make support for the Brexit deal conditional on passing the legislation to implement it, something that could take several days or weeks.
That also gives British lawmakers another chance to scrutinize _ and possibly change_ the Brexit departure terms while the bill is still in Parliament.