British Parliment Out Maneuvers Jonnson, But EU Could Keep Pressure On
Parliamentary approval for Boris Johnson's approved EU deal would mark a significant political victory for him and pave the way for the U.K. to finally exit from the EU after more than three years of ongoing political upheaval. Downing Street hopes to attempt to get through the final stages of legislative scrutiny of the proposals in time for an Oct. 31 exit. The outcome is likely to come down to a handful of votes.
The prime minister presented the deal to lawmakers in a rare Saturday sitting of Parliament. Urging them to vote for the package, he said his new deal provided “a real Brexit” that would be “the greatest single restoration of national sovereignty in parliamentary history.”
Instead of approving the deal, lawmakers approved a measure that could delay the process days, weeks or even months. Their new measure requires a decisive vote to be held only once all the accompanying legislation has been properly scrutinized. Passage of that measure triggered a law that required Mr. Johnson on Saturday to request a three-month extension to Britain’s EU membership, to Jan. 31.
“A further extension would damage the interests of the U.K. and our EU partners,” Mr. Johnson wrote. Downing Street’s calculation is that lawmakers are more likely to wave through the withdrawal package if the risk of leaving without a deal remains open.
“We are going to leave on Oct. 31. We have the means and the ability to do so,” Michael Gove, a senior minister in Mr. Johnson’s administration, said Sunday in an interview with Sky News.
The extension request puts the EU leaders in a bind. They face three decisions: whether to approve the extension; when to make that call; and how long an extension should last.
EU governments are very eager to be finished with Brexit and they want to keep the pressure on U.K. lawmakers to support the agreement but they also want to avoid an accidental no-deal outcome where the U.K. exits the bloc Oct. 31 without a deal that both sides support.
On Saturday afternoon, French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with Mr. Johnson and expressed “the need for a quick clarification of the British position” on the agreement, an aide said. Mr. Macron said that “a delay would not be in the interest of either side.” Mr. Johnson also spoke with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and European Council President Donald Tusk.
Mr. Tusk said on Twitter on Saturday evening that he would take a few days and consult with other EU leaders to decide on an extension request. A senior EU official said Sunday it was “very unlikely” a decision would be made before U.K. lawmakers vote, one way to keep the pressure on U.K. lawmakers.
Mr. Johnson is expected to bring back his withdrawal deal for another vote Monday or Tuesday. The deal was backed by 28 pro-Brexit lawmakers who voted against Mrs. May’s withdrawal package on three occasions.
“We seem to have the numbers in the House of Commons,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. on Sunday. Maddy Thimont Jack, senior researcher at the Institute for Government, said the government has “quite a good chance” of passing the deal.
If lawmakers do approve the deal, it wouldn’t necessarily mean the uncertainty will end. The agreement would go through further legislative scrutiny to take effect in law. That opens the possibility that important changes could still be made, including a vote on a new referendum.
If Parliament doesn’t ratify the agreement, the Brexit process would again be plunged into uncertainty, with an election likely needed to resolve the stalemate.