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Brexit

UK MPs vote for Letwin proposals forcing Brexit delay

Boris Johnson in parliament on 19 October.
Boris Johnson in parliament on 19 October. ©UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via REUTERS

British lawmakers on Saturday voted for a proposal to withhold support for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal until formal ratification legislation has passed.

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Lawmakers voted 322-306 for the amendment, put forward by former Conservative lawmaker Oliver Letwin. It means that parliament will not vote this Saturday on whether to approve Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s agreement.

Unless Johnson has approved a deal by the end of Saturday, he is obliged by law to ask the EU for a Brexit delay until the end of January 2020.

If Johnson can get all the legislation through parliament, he could still deliver Brexit by 31 October.

Leader of the Scottish National Party, Nicola Sturgeon, welcomed the news in a Tweet.

Johnson vowed to stick to an October 31 Brexit deadline, despite MPs winning more time to study a divorce deal he struck with Brussels this week.

He told parliament the "meaningful vote" on his divorce agreement with the European Union "has been voided of meaning" but added? "I will not negotiate a delay with the EU, and neither does the law compel me to do so."

The European Commission urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson's British government on Saturday to quickly explain how it wants to proceed with Brexit preparations after losing another parliamentary vote.

Spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said Brussels "takes note of the vote in the House of Commons today on the so-called Letwin Amendment meaning that the Withdrawal Agreement itself was not put to vote today.

"It will be for the UK government to inform us about the next steps as soon as possible," she tweeted.

France said on Saturday that any new delay in Britain's departure from the EU was "in nobody's interest" after British MPs postponed a decision on a new Brexit deal.

"An agreement has been negotiated. It is now up to the British parliament to say whether it accepts or rejects it," the French presidency said.

Lord Letwin

Oliver Letwin, 63, is a former cabinet minister with a reputation as an unofficial fixer, using his affable manner and procedural knowledge to head off awkward disagreements in parliament. Brexit has given him notoriety as a rebel with a cause: to stop a no-deal Brexit.

The first Saturday sitting of parliament for 37 years was supposed to frame the approval of Johnson’s EU divorce deal, but Letwin, expelled by Johnson from the Conservative Party, may have snared the prime minister in a legislative booby-trap.

In a move that indicates the level of suspected perfidy that runs through both sides of the Brexit schism, Letwin proposed a 26-word amendment that, he says, removes any chance of a no-deal Brexit by deferring a decision on Johnson’s deal.

Thousands of protesters who gathered outside the House of Parliament cheered following today's vote in favour of the Letwin amendment.

The Letwin amendment potentially turns Johnson’s Brexit finale on its head by leaving the prime minister exposed to a humiliating obligation to ask the EU for a delay until the end of January 2020.

The tension between the two men was on display on the floor of parliament, a 19th-century gothic palace.

Fixing his eyes on Letwin, Johnson said: “This is a momentous occasion for our country and our parliament, and it would be a great shame if the opportunity to have a meaningful vote ... were to be taken away from us.”

Letwin, standing in the debating chamber clutching a sheaf of parliamentary papers, looked on impassively.

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