British prime minister Boris Johnson’s dreams of getting a Brexit deal passed by October 31 have been dashed. The country now awaits the decision of European Union leaders on the extension of the deadline. Meanwhile, a consensus seems to be emerging on holding fresh elections.
Johnson was forced to put the Withdrawal Agreement Bill on hold, after losing a crucial vote on a ‘programme motion,’ which would have enabled the passing of the bill quickly. The Bill gives legal status to Brexit. On October 22, the bill cleared its first hurdle when members of the House of Commons approved it by a vote of 329 to 299 in its ‘second reading.’ The second reading is when a bill gets approved for further debate in the House and is opened for amendments in the third reading where it is ratified or voted down.
But the prime minister’s euphoria was not to last long, since almost immediately, MPs rejected the accompanying “programme motion”, which set a timetable to have the bill passed in three days and hence finish the Brexit process before the October 31 deadline.
MPs rejected the motion over the pacing of the process. After the vote, Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn said that the MPs “refused to be bounced into debating a hugely significant piece of legislation in just two days, with barely any notice or an analysis of the economic impact of this bill.” He also added that the MPs needed more time to improve “on this worse-than-terrible treaty.”
After losing the vote, the government decided to “pause” the bill. During the question hour, Johnson said that it was now for the European Union to decide on the extension, even as he reiterated that he would stand against any further extension.
Reports say Johnson will push again for a general election if the European Union accepts parliament’s request for a three-month extension. Johnson had in the past stated that if the Brexit date gets extended, he will set aside his deal and go for a general election before the end of the year.
EU Council president Donald Tusk has said that he would recommend that the European Council support the extension of Brexit deadline until January 31, and even stated that he would ask for a written procedure to avoid another summit to decide on the matter. Speculations are also rife of whether the extension will also come with a flexible last date, called “flextension”, so that another procedural extension will not be required.
Corbyn asserted that the government had “scripted” its own demise, by trying to rush the parliament into making a decision without enough time. Later, after a meeting between Johnson and the Labour leader at the prime minister’s office brought little success, the latter told the media that his party was ready for a general election once a “no-deal crash-out” Brexit was entirely off the table. Corbyn told the House of Commons after the vote that he would support a more “reasonably” paced timetable to pass a withdrawal agreement and even a general election.
Even if Johnson wanted a general election, he would need a two-thirds majority to dissolve the House, which can only happen with the support of the Labour Party that has largely stayed away from voting on a snap election.