Britain is on course for another Brexit delay after MPs voted to reject Boris Johnson’s timetable to ram legislation through Parliament in time to take the UK out of the European Union by Oct. 31.
In a crunch day at Westminster that all but ended the prime minister’s chances of keeping his promise on delivering Brexit by the end of the month, the House of Commons voted 322 to 308 to oppose the government’s controversial programme motion for its withdrawal agreement bill.
Downing Street had sought to push through its Brexit legislation in just three days to try to meet its Oct. 31 deadline, but opposition MPs and some former Tory rebels who were stripped of the party whip last month said this did not give them sufficient time to scrutinise the Bill.
Nine of the ex-Tory rebels, including former chancellor Philip Hammond, voted against the government's timetable.
Speaking after the defeat, Johnson told the Commons that the Brexit legislation would be paused while he speaks to the EU about an extension to Article 50.
"I must express my disappointment that the House has again voted for delay rather than a timetable that would have guaranteed that the UK would be in a position to leave the EU on Oct. 31 with a deal," he said.
"We now face further uncertainty and the EU must now make up their minds over how to answer Parliament’s request for a delay."
Attention now turns to Brussels to see how EU leaders will respond to the extension request letter that Johnson was forced to send on Saturday night.
European Council President Donald Tusk said he would recommend the EU accepts the UK’s request. An EU official confirmed that Tusk’s tweet meant that he was recommending to the 27 leaders an extension to the end of January 2020 in line with the UK request. The decision will be for the 27 leaders to make.
Two diplomatic sources told BuzzFeed News that French President, Emmanuel Macron, was not happy with Tusk’s recommendation to extend until January 31.
Macron had been against a long extension to 2020 the last time EU leaders met to discuss a delay to Brexit, which ultimately led to the current October compromise.
The European Commission said it would now consult leaders on the UK's extension request. Tusk suggested they could agree via a written procedure, removing the need to hold an emergency summit.
Should there be differences in views among the 27 on the duration and terms of an extension, the leaders would have to meet in person.
Tusk’s recommendation to EU27 leaders to accept the UK request (to 31/1) is currently the only request and proposal on the table. It would be a so-called “flextension”, which could be terminated once/if the Brexit deal is ratified.
During the Commons debate, the prime minister said that if the EU triggered an extension until January, he would seek a general election. BuzzFeed News reported on Monday night that Number 10 was threatening this move.
But if the EU grants a shorter extension, Johnson could try again one more time to pass his Brexit deal in the coming weeks.
Alternatively, the EU could tell Johnson he has a few more weeks to ratify his deal, then face a longer extension if he fails.
A decision on the extension is expected from EU leaders within the next few days.
Following the vote, the prime minister's spokesperson said that the ball was now in the court of the EU, which will consider the length of extension to offer to the UK.
He added: "He believes that we should leave on Oct. 31. He said that he believes that extending beyond Oct. 31 will be corrosive. That's his position."
"Where we are now as a result of the actions of Parliament is that the EU will have to consider the request from Parliament that was conveyed to it at the weekend."
Earlier on Tuesday evening, MPs voted for the first time to approve the concept of a Brexit deal with the EU — backing the withdrawal agreement bill's second reading by a majority of 30.