The Slatest

U.K. Lawmakers Deal Humiliating Defeat to Boris Johnson by Voting for Brexit Delay

Demonstrators hold placards and EU flags as they take part in a march by the People's Vote organisation in central London on October 19, 2019, calling for a final say in a second referendum on Brexit.
Demonstrators hold placards and EU flags as they take part in a march by the People’s Vote organization in central London on October 19, 2019, calling for a final say in a second referendum on Brexit.
NIKLAS HALLE’N/Getty Images

U.K. lawmakers dealt a major blow to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson by voting to postpone a decision on whether to support his Brexit deal. In a rare weekend session, lawmakers in Parliament voted 322 to 306 to approve a last-minute amendment to delay a final approval on Brexit until there is detailed legislation on how it will be implemented. The move amounted to a humiliating defeat for Johnson and his campaign to get Britain out of the European Union by the end of the month.

The vote effectively forces Johnson to ask the European Union to grant a delay to Britain’s departure from the bloc, which the prime minister had vowed never to pursue. And he continued to be defiant on Saturday, insisting he would not negotiate a further delay to Brexit. “I will not negotiate a delay with the EU and neither does the law compel me to do so,” Johnson said. “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 prime minister said he was not “daunted or dismayed” by the turn of events and would move ahead with trying to get another vote on Brexit next week. According to the so-called Benn Act, which was approved last month, he now has until 11 p.m. to send a letter to the European Union requesting an extension. Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, insisted Johnson must “comply with the law” and request an extension. “He can no longer use the threat of a no-deal crash-out to blackmail [lawmakers] to support his sellout deal,” he said. Others warned they would take legal action if Johnson refused to ask for the extension.

Even if Johnson requests the extension there is no reason to believe the European Union will rush to approve it. The BBC’s Katya Adler explains:

The EU is not going to rush to take any action following this vote.

As far as it is concerned, it has negotiated a new Brexit deal as requested by the UK government and now it is up to that government to sell that deal.

There is zero appetite in the EU to renegotiate the deal and, if the EU receives a request for a new Brexit extension, don’t expect a rush on the EU’s side to grant it.

If push comes to shove, I cannot see EU leaders saying no to another request for an extension if the alternative would be a no-deal Brexit, which they have wanted so much to avoid.

Even if they won’t be happy about it though, most agree EU officials will approve an extension. A spokesperson for the European Commission said it was up to the United Kingdom to inform it of the next steps. “The European commission takes note of the vote in the House of Commons today on the so-called Letwin amendment, meaning that the withdrawal agreement itself was not put to vote today,” she said. “It will be for the UK government to inform us about the next steps as soon as possible.” European Union officials tell the Guardian that an extension would be granted even if reluctantly. A French diplomatic source tells Reuters that while no one is eager for another delay, the European Union also doesn’t want to be the one to force the United Kingdom into a disorderly exit by rejecting an extension.

As lawmakers debated inside Parliament Saturday, tens of thousands of anti-Brexit protesters marched outside, including London Mayor Sadiq Khan, demanding a new referendum on whether Britain should leave the European Union. Many of the protesters were wearing clothes resembling the EU flag. “There can be no doubt that this ranks as one of the greatest protests this country has ever seen,” a spokesperson for the People’s Vote campaign said.

Demonstrators hold placards and EU and Union flags as they take part in a march by the People's Vote organization in central London on October 19, 2019, calling for a final say in a second referendum on Brexit.
Demonstrators hold placards and EU and Union flags as they take part in a march by the People’s Vote organization in central London on October 19, 2019, calling for a final say in a second referendum on Brexit.
NIKLAS HALLE’N/Getty Images