Friday 24 January 2020

Johnson secures first Brexit victory - but UK exit plan in doubt

UK PM Boris Johnson
UK PM Boris Johnson

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson secured his government's first significant victory on Brexit in the House of Commons last night - but his plan to leave in eight days' time remained in serious doubt.

Mr Johnson's aim to take the UK out of the EU in just over a week's time suffered a blow after his proposed rapid timetable to pass the Brexit deal through Parliament was rejected by MPs.

The rejection of the timetable came minutes after MPs had for the first time backed the government's Brexit deal that Mr Johnson hammered out with the EU five days ago.

It was the first time the Commons had been prepared to support any Brexit deal.

Mr Johnson said he would now "pause" the Brexit legislation, as it remained unclear when, and indeed if, the UK will leave the European Union - despite the PM's long-stated pledge to leave 'do or die' on October 31 with or without a deal.

The Prime Minister indicated he would now await the outcome of EU leaders' deliberations on the UK's request to extend the Brexit deadline.

Under the terms of the so-called Benn Act, Mr Johnson was forced to write to the EU at the weekend, seeking an extension after failing to win the support of the Commons to pass his deal at Saturday's special sitting.

European Council president Donald Tusk said yesterday that he will recommend the EU accept the UK's request for a Brexit extension.

However, Mr Johnson warned his government would ramp up no-deal preparations after the votes in Westminster.

"The EU must now make up their minds as to how to answer parliament's request for a delay - the Government must take the only responsible course and accelerate our preparations for a no deal outcome," Mr Johnson told MPs.


In Dublin, the continuing uncertainty in Westminster was being viewed in Leinster House, and in political circles, last night as having closed the door on the possibility for a snap general election in November.

Responding to the MPs' votes last night, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said in a tweet: "It's welcome that the House of Commons voted by a clear majority in favour of legislation needed to enact the Withdrawal Agreement.

"We will now await further developments from London and Brussels about next steps including timetable for the legislation and the need for an extension."

Some Cabinet ministers had thought Mr Varadkar would seek their approval to stand down the Government's no-deal preparations at yesterday's meeting but the continuing uncertainty in the House of Commons put paid to that.

Amid the uncertainty in London, the Taoiseach and Tanaiste Simon Coveney briefed Cabinet on the need to continue the Government's no-deal preparations in the event that the UK crashes out.

Ministers were also warned to avoid wading into the Brexit debate as British politicians continue to deliberate on the issue.

"They don't want any of us to say anything that would make anything worse," one minister said after yesterday's meeting.

An Irish Government spokesman said there would not be a third round of negotiations between the UK and the EU but said that Brexit deal could be renegotiated if there is a "softening" of the UK government's position in the aftermath of a general election there.

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