NEWS
21/10/2019 9:46 AM AEDT

It Was Another Decisive Week In Brexit: What On Earth Happens Now?

Boris Johnson has been forced to ask the EU for a delay. His deal can still be passed, but the clock is ticking and there are road bumps along the way.

Despite the sunshine in Westminster, super Saturday ended up being a bit soggy. Parliament’s decision to delay its formal approval of Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal until the legislation writing it into law has actually passed, robbed the UK prime minister of an immediate triumph.

Once more with meaning

But in the best traditions of Brexit deals, the Boris Johnson looks set to try and bring his back for another meaningful vote on Monday.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Commons leader, indicated as such at the weekend and is expected to formally announce it on Monday afternoon.

But he might not be allowed.

It seems quite possible John Bercow will rule it out of order for the government to essentially ask MPs the same question twice.

The Speaker has already branded the move “curious” and “irregular”. Back in March, Bercow dramatically thwarted Theresa May’s bid to hold a third meaningful vote on her deal for that very reason.

Judges are also set to decide on Monday whether the unsigned letter sent by Johnson asking for an extension from the EU complied with the Benn Act, or if he is in contempt of court.

A customs union is back

Whatever happens with the meaningful vote, the government is set to bring the Withdrawal Agreement Bill to the Commons on Tuesday.

However time is running out for the PM to keep to his pledge that the UK will leave on October 31.

There are only eight Commons sitting days until the current exit day. Ministers could try to hold additional sittings to get the legislation through.

And a fresh headache for the prime minister will be attempts by Labour to amend the legislation. 

Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that his party would try to change the bill to keep the entire UK – not just Northern Ireland – in a customs union with the EU.

It does have a good chance of success. In April an attempt to keep the UK in a customs union, pushed by former Tory chancellor Ken Clarke, was defeated by just three votes.

The handful of Labour MPs who have indicated they would vote for Johnson’s deal are likely to back a new amendment.

“A customs union amendment is what I’ll be working for,” Ashfield MP Gloria De Piero said on Sunday. “It would enable us to stay true to the Labour manifesto every Labour MP was elected on.”

Many of the 21 former Tory rebels kicked out of the party for helping block a no-deal exit, who are worried about the economic impact of Johnson’s deal, could also be tempted to back it.

And then there’s the DUP. Starmer yesterday actively reached out to the unionist Northern Ireland party. “I would openly invite the DUP to talk to us,” he said. “If you want to work with us to improve the situation we’re in, our door is open to that discussion.”

The DUP has not ruled it out. An amended deal that keeps the entire UK in a customs union could appeal to the party which sees its main aim as keeping the union intact.

“We want to leave as one nation. That remains our goal,” DUP MP Sammy Wilson said. “The DUP wants to get Brexit done but it must be a Brexit for the whole of the United Kingdom.”

Second referendum hopes alive (just)

Starmer also confirmed Labour would whip its MPs to back any amendment that attached a second referendum to the deal. “Whatever deal gets through, it should be subject to a referendum,” he said.

The move, which will delight the People’s Vote protesters who swarmed around parliament on Saturday, is expected to come from the backbenches rather than the party leadership itself.

But this is less likely to pass. The numbers still do not seem to be there.

Labour MPs who believe holding another public vote would be a disaster for the party in Leave areas of the country are unlikely to support it.

And the DUP is lukewarm at best. “The DUP does not seek a second referendum, merely implementation of the first,” Wilson said.

What about that extension?

Meanwhile, European leaders will discuss whether to grant an extension to Article 50 after Johnson was forced to send a letter requesting one after Saturday’s vote.

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, told reporters in Brussels on Sunday this would be decided “in the next few days”.

Some EU leaders, notably French president Emmanuel Macron, have been downbeat on the prospect of delaying Brexit any further. It takes only one of the EU27 to veto the move. But in reality most people expect it to be granted. 

Yet as The Guardian reports, EU leaders will wait to see what happens in the Commons at the start of this week before making a decision on what to do.

And will we get an election?

Jeremy Corbyn has previously said he would agree to Boris Johnson’s demand for a general election once an extension to Article 50 has “been achieved”. And Shami Chakrabarti, the shadow attorney general, said earlier this month Labour would vote to hold an election “certainly this side of Christmas”. But the chances of this appear to be dwindling.

Asked if he expected the poll to take place before Christmas, John McDonnell told Sky News yesterday morning: “Well, we’ll see.”