Boris Johnson aims to rush Brexit law through Commons in three days
The express timetable for passing the Withdrawal Agreement Bill sparks an immediate backlash
London — Prime Minister Boris Johnson will seek to rush his crucial Brexit law through the UK’s House of Commons in just three days after he was thwarted in his latest attempt to get his divorce deal approved.
On Monday, parliamentary speaker John Bercow rejected the government’s bid to trigger a second parliamentary vote on the Brexit deal that the prime minister secured last week in Brussels.
Johnson will now redirect his efforts to fast-tracking the detailed law he needs to pass through parliament — starting Tuesday, and completing its passage through the Commons by Thursday. It will then go to the House of Lords, parliament’s upper chamber, in an attempt to deliver Brexit by his October 31 deadline.
The express timetable for passing the Withdrawal Agreement Bill sparked an immediate backlash in the Commons. MPs attacked the government for attempting to “ram through” the bill.
Johnson is seeking to deliver on his “do or die” pledge to ensure the UK leaves the European Union by the end of the month. Even though there are signs that he may have enough support to win a vote on ratifying the Brexit deal he struck in Brussels last week, MPs do not yet want to make that decision.
On Saturday, MPs voted to postpone a final verdict on Johnson’s Brexit deal until after detailed legislation has been passed to implement it, a move designed to prevent the UK accidentally tumbling out of the EU with no deal.
Bercow said MPs had already debated and voted on Johnson’s deal in principle in a rare sitting on Saturday — two days ago — and they had chosen to delay taking a final decision on whether to approve or reject it.
The prime minister cannot keep asking MPs to answer the same question in an attempt to get them to change their minds, Bercow said, citing a parliamentary convention dating back to 1604.
“It is clear that the motions are in substance the same,” Bercow said. “My ruling is therefore that the motion will not be debated today as it would be repetitive and disorderly to do so.”
Downing Street then hit back. “We’re disappointed that the Speaker has yet again denied us the chance to deliver on the will of the British people,” Johnson’s spokesperson, James Slack, told reporters in London.
Johnson has vowed repeatedly to force the UK out of the EU with or without a deal by the current October 31 deadline. He will now attempt to fast-track the draft law to implement his exit agreement through parliament over the next 10 days, as he battles to deliver Brexit on time.
The government is planning to publish that law — the Withdrawal Agreement Bill — late on Monday. It will then be debated and voted on in general terms on Tuesday, before a motion on the fast-track timetable for the bill is put to a vote.
If MPs defeat the government on its proposed three-day timetable — because they want to spend longer scrutinising the details — it will be far more difficult for Johnson to meet his October 31 deadline.
“This government proposal is frankly outrageous given the length and complexity of this bill,’’ Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said. Former Conservative chancellor Ken Clarke also attacked the timetable, saying there was no way the government could expect parliament to scrutinise the exit agreement in three days. Labour’s Owen Smith said Johnson was trying to “ram through” the bill.
Opposition politicians are also likely to try to re-write the bill to force the UK to stay in the EU’s customs union, or to make the Brexit deal conditional on approval from the public in another referendum.