The outcome of Super Saturday

MPs took their places in the Commons on Saturday for an historic sitting to debate and vote on the deal Boris Johnson brought back from the EU Council last week. Or so we thought.

Robust debate took place, a vote on the deal did not.

 

Letwin amendment

Sir Oliver Letwin MP tabled an amendment seeking to withhold approval for Johnson’s deal until the Withdrawal Agreement Bill has been passed – thus aiming to close the loophole that had been identified in the Benn-Burt Act (European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019) which allowed the Prime Minister to circumvent the necessary procedure to prevent No Deal – if MPs had approved the deal, but the Withdrawal Bill had not passed by 31st October, the UK could have left without a deal.

Letwin’s amendment passed 322 votes to 306. As a result, the motion on the deal as amended (by Letwin) was not brought to a division. In reality, this means that Parliament will not approve the deal negotiated by Johnson until the Withdrawal Agreement Bill passes. The key factor playing a role here is time. There are eight sitting days left until the 31 October Brexit deadline which arguably does not leave sufficient time for the Withdrawal Agreement Bill to pass (at least not with the necessary amount of scrutiny). That being said, the Benn-Burt Act went through all legislative processes in a day so never say never…

 

Meaningful Vote?

The Government has indicated that they will push for a Meaningful Vote in the Commons today (Monday 21 October) but given the Speaker’s role in Brexit proceedings, this looks extremely unlikely. Cast your mind back to when Theresa May tried to bring MV4 back to be voted on (after it had been defeated three times). The Speaker rejected the motion, stating the convention that the same motion cannot be put to the Commons twice in one session. Government will be contemplating this outcome and any changes to parliamentary business will be announced in an emergency business statement from Leader of the House Jacob Rees Mogg after Oral Questions at around 3:30pm (Ministerial statements and Urgent questions depending).

So is the deal dead? Not at all. The Government can, and probably will, bring it forward through the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, which has its Second Reading in the Commons tomorrow (Tuesday 22 October). This Bill can be amended and an amendment calling for a confirmatory, or second referendum, looks certain to be tabled. Whether it will pass is a different question altogether. During these proceedings, Labour’s position on Brexit should become clearer, and the actions of the DUP will also be under the microscope. 

This is all before we have even addressed whether the Prime Minister has the numbers to pass the deal in the first place. Whilst it is very close to call, the FT has a useful graph highlighting where the votes could go – suggesting the Government wins by a whisker.

 

Benn-Burt Act

Letwin’s amendment saw the Benn-Burt Act kick in, when the Government missed its 11pm deadline on Saturday to secure Commons agreement for the deal. The Prime Minister was mandated to send a letter to the Donald Tusk requesting another extension to Article 50.

 

Extension?

However, Johnson sent *three letters* to Tusk; the first (unsigned) requesting the extension, the second from the UK’s Ambassador to the EU explaining next steps in Parliament, and a third letter from Johnson (signed) stating that he does not want a delay to Brexit. The letters can be read in full here.

So the extension ball is in the EU’s court. We could be looking at an extension until February 2020.

It must be noted that the EU27 is under no obligation to grant this extension, and that any extension must be unanimously agreed.

 

See you in court

Meanwhile, the Scottish Court of Session takes place today and will decide whether the Prime Minister’s three letters is compliant with the Benn-Burt Act

Get ready for *another* dramatic week in Parliament…