In Depth

Speaker John Bercow rejects ‘yes-no’ vote on Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal

Parliamentary maths on a knife-edge for withdrawal agreement bill

Boris Johnson’s hopes of a clear “yes” or “no” vote by MPs on his Brexit deal have been dashed.

Speaker John Bercow refused the request, saying the deal had already been brought before Parliament on Saturday and it would be “repetitive and disorderly” to debate it again.

The government is therefore expected go ahead with the introduction of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB)’s second reading on Tuesday.

Analysis by the Financial Times, based on past voting records and public statements, had suggested there could be a majority of five for the Brexit deal, with some 320 MPs appearing set to back Johnson’s deal and 315 opposed.

What happened on Saturday?

The government pulled a vote on its renegotiated deal after MPs voted for an amendment put forward by Tory MP Sir Oliver Letwin to withhold approval of the deal until all the legislation to enact the bill is safely passed.

The move forced the prime minister to grudgingly request an extension from Brussels to the UK’s departure date for the EU as set out in law. However, Johnson opened himself up to accusations that he could be in contempt of parliament after he sent a second letter to EU Council President Donald Tusk setting out why he does not believe a delay would be in the interests of the EU or UK.

Stephen Bush in the New Statesman says “the reality of the letters is that it is an attempt to recast defeat as victory” and to “distract from the reality” that Johnson’s promise to die in a ditch rather than delay Brexit might not be kept.

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What happens next?

The government has stuck to its line that the UK will leave by the end of the month. Johnson wanted to get MPs to approve the principles of his Brexit deal today and then move to votes on related legislation on Tuesday. However, Bercow has ruled out the simple “yes” or “no” vote in light of the Letwin amendment. This means Johnson will have to pursue backing of the deal through dense legislation, namely the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB).

“The problem is it can be amended in every which way thinkable,” says Sky News. “The potential amendment which generates most interest is the idea of a second referendum, but this is probably a red herring as the votes (probably) don’t exist for it still.”

The Independent described the defeat on Saturday as “humiliating” for the prime minister. However, BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg says “look carefully at the voting lists and Boris Johnson was able to demonstrate he has a genuine chance of getting the support of the Commons for his deal”.

She adds that “the likelihood of a Brexit agreement happening appears a thousand times stronger than it ever was under his predecessor”.

Gordon Rayner in The Telegraph says Johnson still hopes to get the necessary legislation through Parliament to make his Brexit deal law by 31 October, meaning the UK could still leave with a deal before the current deadline, “but Remain-supporting MPs are now likely to try to enforce the delay required by Letwin in the hope of using the extra time to get a second referendum”.

Labour’s Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that the party’s MPs will be whipped to back a second vote but added any amendment was likely to be tabled by backbench MPs rather than the Labour leadership, in order to try to enable the broadest possible cross-party coalition in the House of Commons.

“Of course we need an amendment to say that whatever deal gets through, it should be subject to a referendum where that deal is put to the public and they’re asked ‘do you want to leave on these terms, or would you rather remain in the EU?’” he said.

The Guardian says his comments “went much further than his party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who has previously said Labour could not vote for Johnson’s deal even with a second referendum attached”.

John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, also confirmed to Sky’s Sophy Ridge that Labour would back a second referendum amendment.

The Times says Labour “believes that while it has the support it needs in the Commons to keep Britain in a customs union with the EU, it is less likely to secure a majority for a second referendum”. It adds: “As many as 25 Labour MPs could oppose it because they want to deliver Brexit.”

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