Tuesday, 18 Feb 2020

General Election before Christmas if Boris Johnson’s Brexit plan blocked by MPs

A General Election could be called before Christmas if Boris Johnson’s Brexit plan gets voted down by MPs.

The Prime Minister has threatened to pull his Brexit deal and call an early election if MPs do not vote for his plans in the Commons.

Two crucial votes tonight will determine whether the Prime Minister will be able to live up to his "do or die" commitment to take the UK out of the European Union by his self-imposed October 31 deadline.

MPs will cast their initial vote on the PM's Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) before being asked to back his accelerated timetable to hurry the legislation through Parliament.

Johnson told the Commons that he would "in no way allow months more of this" as he called on MPs to work "night and day" to scrutinise his plans and avoid a no-deal departure.

"If Parliament refuses to allow Brexit to happen, and instead gets its way and decides to delay everything until January or possibly longer, in no circumstances can the Government continue with this," he said.

"And with great regret I must say that the Bill will have to be pulled and we will have to go forward to a general election."

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The threat was dismissed as "childish blackmail" by Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Tom Brake.

"MPs shouldn't be bullied into voting in favour of this ridiculously short timetable," he added.

Johnson also warned that failure to back his plans would be "closing the path to leaving with a deal on October 31 and opening the path to a no-deal in nine days time".

Urging MPs to vote for the programme motion, he said: "Doing anything else would, I am afraid, mean this House abdicating its responsibilities and handing over to the EU Council what happens next."

A programme motion is thought to have only been defeated once before – on House of Lords reform in 2012 – and the Bill was then scrapped.

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Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he would vote against both aspects and accused the PM of "trying to blindside" Parliament with a "disgraceful attempt to dodge accountability, scrutiny, and any kind of proper debate".

Donald Tusk gave some reassurance to MPs that a requested extension to Article 50 would be treated with "all seriousness" as he consults with EU leaders who could block the move.

"It is obvious that the result of these consultations will very much depend on what the British Parliament decides, or doesn't decide," the European Council president said.

"We should be ready for every scenario. But one thing must be clear: as I said to Prime Minister Johnson on Saturday, a no-deal Brexit will never be our decision."

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The new Brexit deal must also win backing from the European Parliament, but its Brexit co-ordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, said problems affecting EU nationals in the UK must first be solved to prevent "another Windrush scandal".

As his time as European Commission president comes to a close, Jean-Claude Juncker said it has "pained" him to spend so much time dealing with Brexit, which he described as "a waste of time and a waste of energy".

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier also told the European Parliament that "this is the only possible agreement", signalling it is the last deal any PM can broker.

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Rory Stewart, who was among the 21 rebels against no-deal exiled from the Tories, suggested he could back the WAB but not back the programme motion.

Failure to get the motion through would open up the prospect that Johnson will be forced to accept another lengthy delay to Britain's departure – something he has vowed not to do.

The first vote on Tuesday will be on the Bill's "in principle" second reading.

Despite the opposition of the DUP over arrangements for Northern Ireland, ministers believe they have the support of pro-Leave Labour rebels and former Tory MPs now sitting as independents, who would rather leave with Johnson's deal than no deal at all.

If it passes under the proposed timetable the Bill would then move to the committee stage – which will continue on into Wednesday – when MPs will have the opportunity to put down amendments.

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Labour-backed amendments are expected to include attempts to keep the UK more closely aligned with the EU through a customs union and to hold a second referendum.

Both are bitterly opposed by the Government.

Corbyn has urged MPs to vote against the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, calling it a "rotten deal" and a "charter for deregulation".

He urged Labour colleagues to think "very, very carefully" about how they vote on the Bill tonight, amid indications some backbenchers in the party could support the deal on its second reading.

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The Leader of the Opposition said his party would vote against the Bill at its second reading and, if it proceeds, they will also vote against the programme motion in which the Government wants the legislation to complete its Commons stages by Thursday.

Corbyn said he warned on Saturday that if the House passes the Government's deal, it would be a "disaster for our country".

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford issued a warning to opposition MPs "tempted to vote with the Government".

He said: "Be careful. Because what you're doing is you're writing a blank cheque to the Prime Minister and the Vote leave campaign that runs this Government to drive the United Kingdom out of the European Union on a no-deal basis at the end of next year. And, friends, there is nothing you can do to stop it."

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Blackford also called for greater scrutiny of the legislation, saying it should not simply be "pushed through".

He said: "We must have proper scrutiny. We must be able to tease out the facts of the mater.

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"And it is the case that the government in London has an obligation to negotiate with parties from Northern Ireland as the right honourable member said.

"But also to negotiate with the devolved administrations in Edinburgh and in Cardiff."

He added: "We spent over 100 hours in committee over Maastricht – 100 hours.

"More than 100 hours. What on earth are we doing? What on earth are we doing pushing this legislation through over a couple of days."

  • Brexit
  • Boris Johnson
  • Jeremy Corbyn

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