Boris Johnson has defiantly insisted he won’t seek any delay to Brexit despite a cross-party alliance of MPs voting to force him to do so.
In an historic Saturday sitting, the Commons voted by 322 to 306 to compel the prime minister to write to Brussels to extend the UK’s membership of the EU from October 31 to January next year.
The vote means that Johnson’s ‘do-or-die’ Halloween deadline can now be breached if Brexit legislation is not passed in the next fortnight.
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MPs backed an amendment by Tory grandee Sir Oliver Letwin which delays the PM’s plan for a straight ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote on his EU divorce proposals.
But after the vote, Johnson vowed to defy MPs, insisting: “I will not negotiate a delay with the EU and neither does the law compel me to do so.
“I will tell our friends and colleagues in the EU exactly what I’ve told everyone in the last 88 days that I’ve served as prime minister - that further delay will the bad for this country, bad for our European Union and bad for democracy.”
No.10 refused to confirm whether Johnson will send the letter as required under law, apart from saying “governments comply with the law”.
The Conservative party sent out a tweet suggesting the PM could possibly send a separate letter making clear his own unhappiness with the extension request.
Either way, the Letwin amendment sets up a fresh parliamentary showdown next Tuesday, when the government is expected to bring forward its Withdrawal Agreement Bill to enact the Johnson deal struck with Brussels.
Downing Street sources were withering about the fresh delay, but Letwin and other MPs insisted that his new safeguard would actually make it more likely that parliament could now approve his deal.
In line with the Benn Act, Johnson will now have until 11pm on Saturday night to send a letter to the EU 27 requesting an extension of the UK’s EU membership to January 31, 2020
HuffPost UK understands that allies of the PM are expecting the EU to grant only a short extension, probably up of a couple of weeks, in order to help the deal get through the Commons and avoid a general election or second referendum.
Earlier, Johnson signalled that he would indeed comply with the law, however with a strong hint that he would also possibly send another message to Brussels that he wanted any delay to be as short as possible.
“I must tell the House again in all candour that whatever letters they may seek to enforce, seek to force the Government to write, it cannot change my judgement that further delay is pointless, expensive and deeply corrosive of public trust,” he said.
The DUP’s fury with Johnson’s new Northern Ireland customs and consent rules in his Brexit deal proved crucial, as all its 10 MPs voted for the Letwin delay.
Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg sparked anger from MPs when he said he would on Monday table a fresh attempt to get a ‘meaningful vote’ on the Brexit deal, before any legislation was tabled.
Letwin said that he would view such a move as an attempt to ‘negate’ his amendment and Speaker Bercow said he would decide at the time whether the move was in order.
“The apparent purpose of the said motion which ministers are attempting to table is to invalidate or obviate, the effect of the decision which the House reached today,” Bercow said. “And that does seem most curious or irregular.”
Johnson made a direct pitch for the backing of Labour MPs in Leave areas, but although a handful gave their support many decided that the Letwin move to categorically rule out a no-deal Brexit was needed.
But just six Labour MPs voted to defeat the Letwin amendment: Sir Kevin Barron, Ronnie Campbell, Jim Fitzpatrick, Caroline Flint, Kate Hoey and John Mann. A further four MPs abstained.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said his MPs would “not be duped” into believing Tory “empty promises” on workers’ rights and the environment.
Among the 21 ‘whipless’ or independent Tory MPs, 11 voted against the Letwin move but 10 voted for it.
A spokeswoman for the European Commission said: “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.
“It will be for the UK government to inform us about the next steps as soon as possible.”