British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street, to go to the Houses of Parliament in London on Saturday.
The British parliament delayed a vote on a Brexit deal by three months Saturday, another defeat for Prime Minister Boris Johnson in what had appeared to have been a breakthrough in negotiations between the European Union and the United Kingdom.
As people marched through the streets of London calling for a second referendum, parliament met for a rare Saturday session to vote on Johnson’s new agreement. The session was supposed to be a straight up-and-down vote, but an amendment put forth by former Conservative Oliver Letwin and approved by parliament delayed the vote by three months.
The Letwin Amendment puts the brakes on an immediate vote on Johnson’s plan, instead requiring parliament to pass the legislation needed to implement his plan before the vote. This opens up the possibility of the plan being altered in the three-month span, with continued debate and amendments that would not have been possible with an immediate up-and-down vote.
In early September, Queen Elizabeth II granted Johnson’s request to suspend Parliament for five weeks after it refused to hold a snap election, limiting the body’s ability to intervene and stop a no-deal Brexit. That move was later declared illegal by the U.K. supreme court, furthering the tension and resentment in parliament.
Before the vote, Johnson appealed to the unity of a country that has been divided on the issue for three years, and a parliament that voted down former Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal three times.
“Now is the time for this great House of Commons to come together and bring the country together today, as I believe people at home are hoping and expecting,” Johnson said.
His Conservative party does not have a majority, which required him to reach across the aisle today to opposition lawmakers in the Independent and Labour parties. Although Johnson did have some momentum on his side after the deal was announced, the Letwin Amendment was approved 322 to 306.
The U.K. is still scheduled to leave the E.U. on Oct. 31, but the Letwin Amendment will now force Johnson to ask for an extension of that deadline under the Benn Act to Jan. 31.
“I will not negotiate a delay with the E.U.,” Johnson said to MPs after today’s vote. “And neither does the law compel me to do so.”
If Johnson does request an extension, it will be the first time the country has done so in the three-year negotiation process.
Demonstrators hold European Union (EU) flags and banners during a People’s Vote march in London, U.K., on Saturday. Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Johnson’s plan had the approval of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who called it a “fair and balanced agreement” that avoided the “need for any kind of prolongation” in a joint press conference on Thursday.
NPR’s London Correspondent Frank Langfitt spoke with Weekend Edition about the differences between Johnson’s plan and Theresa May’s previous attempts.
“I think the deal is different in that he got some concessions out of the European Union, so that the U.K. would not always be stuck in a long-term customs relationship with the E.U.,” Langfitt said. “People were afraid that could last forever.”
“The other difference is that Prime Minister Johnson is much more charismatic and much more persuasive than Theresa May was.”
The protests outside of the House of Commons could not go ignored Saturday, highlighting the divide of opinion over the country’s relationship with the E.U. and over how the original Brexit referendum in 2016 was handled.
“Frankly, there’s Brexit fatigue here. People are tired of this, and there’s also a concern that if they don’t get this done, they’ll crash out of the E.U.”
Of great discussion regarding the implementation of Brexit is the status of a customs border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland.
On Twitter, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar condemned the Letwin Amendment, saying that Johnson’s plan “defends Ireland’s interests.”
Should that happen, President Tusk will consult all 27 Heads of State & Govt on whether or not we will grant one. Extension can only be granted by unanimity. #Brexit
— Leo Varadkar (@LeoVaradkar) October 19, 2019
If Johnson does comply with the Benn Act and request an extension, European Council President Donald Tusk and the heads of state and government will have to approve it unanimously. They will meet tomorrow morning to discuss today’s vote in Britain.
@tuerk_alexander is an intern at Here and Now.