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British MPs delay crucial vote on Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal

Les parlementaires britannique votent, le 19 octobre, sur l'accord de sortie de l'Union européenne négocié par Boris Johnson.
Les parlementaires britannique votent, le 19 octobre, sur l'accord de sortie de l'Union européenne négocié par Boris Johnson. Parliament TV via REUTERS

British MPs gathered for an extraordinary session of parliament on Saturday to vote on the Brexit deal Prime Minister Boris Johnson made with the EU have delayed their decision on the agreement until next week. 

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Instead of voting on the deal, the British MPs gathered on Saturday backed the Letwin amendment, a proposal to withhold approval for the PM's agreement until formal ratification legislation has passed.

Johnson said unequivocally that he would not negotiate a delay to Brexit. If a deal is not approved by parliament by the end of Saturday, Johnson is required by law to ask the European Union for a three-month delay to Brexit.

“I will not negotiate a delay with the EU and neither does the law compel me to do so,” Johnson told parliament after the vote.

“I will tell our friends and colleagues in the EU exactly what I have told everyone else in the last 88 days that I have served as prime minister: that further delay would be bad for this country, bad for the European Union and bad for democracy.”

The House of Commons was holding its first Saturday sitting since the 1982 Falklands War to debate the terms of a divorce agreement Johnson struck with European Union leaders on Thursday.

Opposition parties and Johnson's own Northern Irish allies had rejected the text but the prime minister and his team spent the past 48 hours frantically trying to win MPs' support.

'No better outcome'

Speaking earlier, Johnson warned his deal was still the best way out of the tortuous Brexit process that has left Britain in political turmoil since 2016.

"There is no better outcome than the one I'm advocating," he told the BBC on Friday evening, calling it a "fantastic deal for all of the UK".

Securing a deal was a personal victory for Johnson, a "Vote Leave" leader in the referendum campaign who has vowed to deliver Brexit on October 31 no matter what.

But parliament -—like the frustrated public—- is still divided over how and even if Britain should end 46—years of integration with its closest neighbours.

A mass demonstration gathered at the UK parliament Saturday demanding a "People's Vote" with an option to reverse Brexit.

Parliamentary arithmetic

Johnson took office in July after his predecessor Theresa May failed to get her own divorce deal through parliament.

He insisted that Brexit must happen this month to end to uncertainty that has weighed on the economy and dominated political and public debate.

But his political situation is more fragile than May's after he expelled 21 of his own Conservative MPs who refused to accept his threat to leave the EU with no deal.

Businesses and markets on both sides of the Channel fear a disorderly exit, and EU leaders have twice delayed Brexit already to avoid such an outcome.

EU leaders in Brussels this week urged lawmakers to back the deal, to allow both sides to move on to discussing their future relationship.

"This deal means there is no need for any kind of prolongation," European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said.

Rejecting the deal would create an "extremely complicated situation", he added.

The deal covers Britain's financial settlement, protects the rights of EU citizens and sets out a post-Brexit transition period potentially until 2022 to allow both sides to agree new trade terms.

The most controversial element relates to arrangements to keep open the border between British Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland. The previous "backstop" plan, which could have kept Britain in the EU's customs union potentially indefinitely, has been replaced by a new system that will allow London to strike its own trade deals.

But there would be new checks on trade between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain, to the outrage of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), who are allies of the Tories in Westminster.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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