Boris Johnson Tries To ‘Bounce’ MPs With Fast-Tracked Brexit Bill

MPs furious at failure to produce any economic impact assessment of the deal.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks in the House of Commons, London, after MPs accepted the Letwin amendment, which seeks to avoid a no-deal Brexit on October 31.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks in the House of Commons, London, after MPs accepted the Letwin amendment, which seeks to avoid a no-deal Brexit on October 31.
PA Wire/PA Images

Boris Johnson has been accused of trying to ‘bounce’ MPs into backing his new Brexit bill without giving any assessment of whether it will leave the UK worse off.

Labour’s Keir Starmer hit out after the government finally published its long-awaited EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) to ratify the prime minister’s deal with Brussels.

And many MPs, including former ministers, were furious that Chancellor Sajid Javid refuse a request to publish an economic impact assessment of the cost of the deal to the public and the country.

In a swipe at his predecessor Philip Hammond, dubbed ‘spreadsheet Phil’ by his critics, Javid declared that “trust in democracy and bringing an end to the division that has characterised this debate over the past three years, is something that cannot be measured solely through spreadsheets or impact assessments”.

The legislation, which MPs will debate on Tuesday, runs to 110 pages and is accompanied by 124 pages of explanatory notes.

Ahead of Tuesday’s debate, the prime minister said: “I hope Parliament today votes to take back control for itself and the British people and the country can start to focus on the cost of living, the NHS, and conserving our environment.

“The public doesn’t want any more delays, neither do other European leaders and neither do I. Let’s get Brexit done on 31 October and move on.”

But MPs complained that there would be just three days to debate and vote on the detail of one of the most important bills in a generation.

Under a timetable set out by Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg, the legislation would clear the Commons by Thursday. It is expected that it would clear the Lords by Monday and become law on Tuesday, giving two days for the EU to ratify it in time for October 31.

The withdrawal bill includes a provision to allow Johnson’s Brexit deal to be ratified in time for the UK to leave with an agreement on his ‘do or die’ Halloween deadline.

It also attempts to woo Labour MPs with new commitments on workers’ rights, and removes the need to hold yet another ‘meaningful vote’ on the deal itself.

Starmer said it was “outrageous” that MPs would not have a chance to properly scrutinise the Withdrawal Agreement Bill.

“This is a bill to implement Boris Johnson’s deeply flawed plan for Brexit. Ministers are trying to bounce MPs into signing off a bill that could cause huge damage to our county,” he said.

“The truth is Boris Johnson knows that the more time people have to read the small print of his deal, the more it will be exposed for the risks it represents to our economy and communities across the country.”

Labour and other parties accused the government of trying to rush MPs into approving a ‘blind Brexit’, attacking the absence of any Treasury or other figures on the impact of the deal.

One recent study by the UK in a Changing Europe think tank calculated that Johnson’s plan would slash between 2.3% and 7% from economic growth over the next decade, compared with remaining in the EU. By contrast, Theresa May’s deal would have hit GDP by 1.9% to 5.5%.

However Javid wrote on Monday to the Treasury select committee to state that the deal was “self-evidently in our economic interest”.

“It would bring an end to the damaging uncertainty and delay of the past years and allow businesses to get on with taking decisions, including around recruitment and investment,” he said.

When Philip Hammond was Chancellor, a cross-Whitehall economic analysis published last year suggested the economy would be hit hard by a free trade agreement similar to the one implicit in the latest deal.

But Javid told MPs that such ‘generic’ figures would be misleading, adding that he would only update parliament with an analysis at “appropriate points” over the next year once the shape of the trade deal was clearer.

John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, said: “Flying blind on a massive decision on the future of the economy is no way for a government to make recommendations to parliament or make legislation. It’s preposterous behaviour by the chancellor and this government.”

Treasury select committee interim chair Catherine McKinnell said the lack of any substantive assessment was an insult to MPs and would mean them voting ‘blind’ on the Brexit bill.

Rees-Mogg dismissed complaints from Labour, stating: “If anybody is frit they are on the Opposition benches.”

The new withdrawal agreement bill is focused on sticking to the October 31 deadline. It “disapplies” provisions of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act (CRAG) that any international treaty such as the Brexit deal must be laid before Parliament for at least 21 sitting days before ratification.


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