Johnson to abandon Brexit bill if MPs vote against timetable

Agence France-Presse . London | Published: 22:41, Oct 22,2019


Anti-Brexit activists protest outside the Houses of Parliament in London on Tuesday, as MPs begin debating the second reading of the Government’s European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill. — AFP photo

British prime minister Boris Johnson warned MPs that if they vote in Tuesday against the timetable to push his EU divorce deal through parliament this week he will abandon the legislation and try to hold a snap election.

‘If parliament refuses to allow Brexit to happen and instead gets its way and decides to delay... in no circumstances can the government continue with this,’ Johnson told lawmakers, hours ahead of the crunch vote.

‘The bill will have to be pulled... and we will have to go forward to a general election,’ he said, adding: ‘I will argue at that election: let’s get Brexit done.’

MPs will vote later Tuesday on whether they support a new divorce deal struck with the European Union last week ahead of Britain’s October 31 scheduled departure from the bloc.

They will also vote on the government’s proposed timetable to approve the agreement in parliament, which would see frenzied debate in the coming days ahead of giving final approval on Thursday.

Critics have accused the prime minister of trying to railroad the law through the lower House of Commons and the upper House of Lords to avoid close scrutiny of the controversial pact.

‘(It) is actually an abuse of parliament and a disgrace attempt to dodge accountability, scrutiny and any kind of proper debate,’ Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the main opposition Labour Party, said of the timetable, urging fellow MPs to vote against it.

Outgoing European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said Tuesday the EU has ‘done all in our power’ to assure an orderly divorce.

Extra time could allow opposition lawmakers to try and secure much closer future trade relations with the bloc than the firmer break envisioned by Johnson.

Pro-European Britons have also held massive rallies in London demanding a second Brexit referendum, which could allow for the result of the first to be overturned.

A delay would give Johnson a fresh stab at an early election designed to give him the parliamentary majority needed to avoid these scenarios and get his legislation through.

And victory in both of Tuesday’s votes would by no means guarantee that Johnson will manage to get Britain out in the remaining eight days.

The main opposition Labour Party has vowed to fight the government’s attempt to ram through the legislation at breakneck speed.

A three-day process would still likely see Labour and its allies try to attach amendments that are unpalatable to the government.

‘Labour will seize every opportunity through the passage of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill to safeguard workers’ rights, protect our economy and ensure the people are given the final say,’ the left-wing party’s finance spokesman John McDonnell wrote in the Daily Mirror newspaper.

‘MPs have an opportunity to reject the false choice between Boris Johnson’s bad deal and no deal,’ he wrote.

Government sources told The Daily Telegraph newspaper that Johnson could pull the bill if it gets weighed down with amendments his Conservatives cannot accept.

The same sources warned that Johnson would then try to call an ‘immediate’ election that could be held as early as next month.

Johnson said most Britons just wanted to get Brexit resolved.

‘The public doesn’t want any more delays, neither do other European leaders and neither do I,’ Johnson said Monday.

‘Let’s get Brexit done on 31 October and move on.’

Johnson is coming off a string of parliamentary defeats that underscore the travails his minority government faces as it oversees a historic break from Europe.

His initial attempts to get a version of the new Brexit legislation through were thwarted at a very rare weekend sitting and then again Monday.

House of Commons speaker John Bercow ruled the government’s bid to push the same Brexit proposal through parliament twice in three days ‘repetitive and disorderly’.

British newspapers expect Johnson to win the first vote Tuesday that essentially agrees to examine the proposed legislation.

But the second vote on the shortened timeline is widely seen as too close to call.

Johnson’s rapid success would see the legislation move to the upper House of Lords of Friday.

The debate there is expected to last two days.

The new deal must further ratified by the European Parliament before Brexit finally takes effect.

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