Johnson faces fresh showdowns on Brexit as deadline looms

Labour plan to try and politically hijack Withdrawal Agreement legislation.

Press Association
Last updated: 20 October 2019 - 4.40pm

Boris Johnson is striking a bullish Brexit stance as he faces another roller-coaster week in the Commons, insisting the UK will still quit the EU in 11 days’ time.

Despite being forced by Parliament to request a Brexit delay from Brussels, ministers talked-up their chances of rushing Brexit legislation through the Commons.

A potential new Government showdown with Commons Speaker John Bercow looms on Monday when he will rule on whether the Prime Minister can hold a “meaningful vote” on his Brexit deal.

Mr Johnson abandoned plans for such a move on a special Saturday sitting of the Commons after suffering an embarrassing defeat at the hands of former Tory minister Sir Oliver Letwin.

Labour is planning to try and hijack the Prime Minister’s Brexit legislation when he presents it to MPs by tabling amendments demanding a new referendum and customs union with the EU.

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer indicated that Labour could even support the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) if a new national poll on it is backed by MPs.

Asked if he could guarantee that the UK would leave the EU by Halloween, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove said: “Yes, that’s our determined policy.

“We know that the EU want us to leave, we know that we have a deal that allows us to leave.”

Mr Gove told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “We are going to leave by October 31.

“We have the means and the ability to do so and people who – yesterday we had some people who voted for delay, voted explicitly to try to frustrate this process and to drag it out.”

Mr Gove claimed the parliamentary defeat had increased the risk of a no-deal Brexit and he was “triggering” Operation Yellowhammer – the Government’s plan to deal with such a scenario.

He said: “The risk of leaving without a deal has actually increased because we cannot guarantee that the European Council will grant an extension.

“And that is why I will… be chairing a Cabinet committee meeting, extraordinarily on a Sunday, in order to ensure that the next stage of our exit preparations and our preparedness for no-deal is accelerated.

“It means that we are triggering Operation Yellowhammer.”

After suffering the embarrassing defeat in the Commons over his Brexit plans, Mr Johnson got a senior diplomat to send an unsigned photocopy of a letter asking for an extension.

In a second note to European Council president Donald Tusk, the PM said the delay requested would be “deeply corrosive”.

Mr Johnson had been legally required to send the letter as he had not gained the backing of MPs for his plan, and stressed to Brussels he was only sending it at Parliament’s bidding.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell accused Mr Johnson of “behaving a bit like a spoilt brat” in the way he communicated with Brussels over the extension request.

He said the PM could be in contempt of Parliament and the courts over the issue.

Countdown to leaving the EU
(PA Graphics)

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said he believed the Government could get its deal through Parliament.

He said: “We seem to have the numbers in the House of Commons.

“A lot of people say ‘Get this done and move on’.”

Former Cabinet minister Amber Rudd, who quit the Tory whip, said she would back Mr Johnson’s deal.

Asked if the EU was going to be open to an extension, its chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said Mr Tusk would consider the next stage.

It is likely that the EU will assess the situation in the Commons before formally responding to the extension request.

Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg told MPs the Government aimed to hold a meaningful vote on the Brexit deal on Monday and would make an emergency business statement to achieve this.

Commons Speaker Mr Bercow said he would consider whether to allow the Government’s plans.

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