POLITICS
22/10/2019 11:31 BST

Brexit: What Two Crucial Votes Mean For Boris Johnson's Deal

Commons showdown could decide whether the UK leaves the EU on October 31 or not.

Three years on from the 2016 referendum, MPs could on Tuesday actually vote in favour of a Brexit deal. But, naturally, it is not that simple.

There are two crucial Commons votes on this evening from 7pm, which could decide whether or not the UK leaves the EU on October 31.

The first is the second reading – the general principles – of the Withdrawal Act Bill, which will write the deal agreed by Boris Johnson and the EU into UK law. 

It will be tight. If Johnson loses, it seems almost impossible for him to get a deal through before an election. The prime minister is expected to narrowly win this vote. 

The second vote this evening is the programme motion, which sets out the time allotted for MPs to debate the legislation. This looks to be much trickier for the government.

Johnson has promised Brexit will not be delayed beyond the end of this month. To achieve this, the government wants to fast-track the bill through the Commons in just three days. If it takes any longer, there will probably not be enough time for the deal to be ratified by the end of the month.

Applying pressure to MPs, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Commons leader, has warned anyone voting against the accelerated timetable will “not be voting for Brexit on October 31”.

But Hannah White, from the Institute for Government thinktank has savaged the timetable as “deeply inadequate” for such a major piece of legislation.

Opposition MPs are equally unimpressed at the time being given to scrutinise the 110-page bill accompanied by 124 pages of explanatory notes

If the government loses the vote on the programme motion then the chances of the UK leaving the EU on October 31 will fall. No.10 could either present a new timetable, or decide to pull the bill entirely and make renewed demands for a general election.

But even if he wins the second vote, Johnson will not be out of the woods. The bill would then move to the committee stage – which will continue on into Wednesday – when MPs will have the opportunity to put down amendments.

Labour is expected to try and change the PM’s deal to keep the UK in a customs union with the EU. It has also said it will support backbench moves to hold a second referendum.

Both are bitterly opposed by the government, raising the possibility that it could again pull the bill altogether if either gets through.

Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme this morning the government did not want to see the “integrity” of its deal altered. Asked if the bill would be pulled, he said: “That will be a decision for the PM. We are not going to compromise on this deal.”

But even if Johnson accepted the amendments, any substantial changes made to the deal by MPs would have to be signed-off by the EU. 

Meanwhile in Brussels, Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, is waiting to see the outcome of the votes before any decision on what, if any, Article 50 extension is granted. “I have no doubt that we should treat the British request for extension in all seriousness,” he tweeted this morning.