FILE PHOTO: Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks at the House of Commons as parliament discusses Brexit, sitting on a Saturday for the first time since the 1982 Falklands War, in London, Britain, October 19, 2019, in this screen grab taken from video. Parliament TV via REUTERS
October 21, 2019
By Alistair Smout and Elizabeth Piper
LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson will again try to put his Brexit deal to a vote in parliament on Monday after he was forced by his opponents to send a letter to Brussels seeking a delay to Britain’s departure from the European Union.
With just 10 days left until the United Kingdom is due to leave the EU on Oct. 31, the divorce is again in disarray as Britain’s politicians argue over whether to leave with a deal, exit without a deal or hold another referendum.
Although Johnson agreed a deal in talks with EU officials last week, it was not certain that a vote on it would be allowed on Monday.
Johnson was ambushed in parliament on Saturday by opponents who demanded a change to the sequencing of the ratification of the deal, exposing the prime minister to a law which forced him to request a delay until Jan. 31.
Angering his critics, Johnson sent the note to the EU unsigned – and added another signed letter arguing against what he said was a deeply corrosive delay.
“A further extension would damage the interests of the UK and our EU partners, and the relationship between us,” Johnson said his own letter, signed “Boris Johnson”.
The EU has not yet given a clear response but is preparing the steps needed to ratify the deal in the European Parliament.
The British government insists the country will leave the EU on Oct. 31, and plans to put the deal to a vote in parliament later on Monday though it is unclear if the House of Commons speaker, John Bercow, will permit such a vote.
Bercow will make a statement shortly after parliament opens at 1330 GMT. The government warned that if its opponents sought to sink the deal with amendments then it would withdraw the vote.
If Bercow, who said on Saturday he was blindsided by the government’s debate proposal, does not allow it then the government will have to try to push on with the legislation needed for ratification of Johnson’s deal.
But that is a path that exposes Johnson to attempts by opponents to wreck the agreement.
Goldman Sachs raised the probability of the United Kingdom leaving with a ratified deal to 70% from 65%, cut its view of the chances of a “no-deal” Brexit to 5% from 10% and left its view on no Brexit at all unchanged at 25%.
Sterling reached its highest in more than five months at $1.3011.
The EU, which has grappled with the Brexit crisis since Britons voted 52%-48% to leave in a 2016 referendum, decided on Sunday to play for time rather than rush to decide on Johnson’s request for a delay.
From the EU’s point of view, extension options range from just an additional month until the end of November to half a year or longer.
Anti-Brexit campaigners said they would ask a Scottish court on Monday to delay its ruling on a legal challenge that sought to force Johnson to comply with a law requiring him to request a delay to Brexit in the event that no agreement had been approved.
EU Council President Donald Tusk has said he has received Johnson’s unsigned request and is consulting with EU leaders on how to react.
In London, Johnson’s ministers said they were confident they had the numbers to push a deal through parliament.
But the opposition Labour Party is planning changes to the legislation needed for Brexit that would make the deal unacceptable to swathes of Johnson’s own party including a proposal for another referendum.
Johnson’s former allies, the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), said they would not back a proposal for a customs union with the EU – a step that, if passed, would doom Johnson’s deal.
A spokesman for Johnson said that if the legislation is led too far away from the deal, then its ratification would be placed in question.
If Johnson’s deal is scuppered just days before the United Kingdom’s planned departure, it would leave Johnson a choice: try to leave without a deal or accept a delay.
(Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Toby Chopra, Angus MacSwan and Giles Elgood)