Boris Johnson vowed not to ‘negotiate a delay’ to Brexit today after his moment of triumph on a deal was dramatically snatched away by a Remainer plot. Despite frantic efforts, the PM failed to fend off an amendment tabled by former Cabinet minister Sir Oliver Letwin, which prevented his new package being put to a formal vote this afternoon.
Mr Johnson now faces being compelled by the Benn Act to ask the EU for a Brexit extension tonight – but he defiantly insisted he would not change his stance. Responding to the result, he raged: ‘The best thing for the UK and for the whole of Europe is for us to leave with this new deal on October 31.
‘I will not negotiate a delay with the EU and neither does the law compel me to do so.’ He added: ‘No delays, and I will continue to do all I can to get Brexit done on October 31.’
Mr Johnson said his deal is not dead and he is expected to bring forward implementation legislation and hold a new vote on Tuesday. He swiped: ‘The meaningful vote has been voided of meaning.’
But Jeremy Corbyn demanded the PM ‘obeys the law’ and asked the EU for an extension. Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson urged Speaker John Bercow to suspend the sitting so the PM could go and write the letter, and return to inform them it can be sent.
Government whips had admitted they were not hopeful of defeating the Letwin amendment – which he insists is only intended to stave off the threat of No Deal. ‘Lots of people do seem to have been brought in by his arguments sadly,’ one told told MailOnline.
Mr Johnson held last-ditch meetings with the DUP, who have accused him of betrayal for striking a deal that undermines the union, as he pleaded with them to come to the rescue. Sources said the overtures had not gone down well. ‘They are not in a positive place,’ they said ruefully.
Kicking off the ‘Super Saturday’ showdown in the House of Commons earlier, Mr Johnson complained that there might not be a ‘meaningful’ decision for days longer.
He said it was ‘urgent’ for the country to get past the standoff and ‘unite’, saying his deal can ‘heal the rift in British politics’. ‘Now is the time for this great House of Commons to come together and bring the country together today,’ he insisted.
Mr Johnson warned the ‘scope for fruitful negotiation has run its course’. ‘It is now my judgement that we have reached the best possible solution,’ he said.
Sources have revealed that Mr Johnson held crisis talks with Sir Oliver in Downing Street last night as he tried to head off the crisis, but without success. Ironically, the roadblock emerged just as the premier seemed to be on the brink of a breakthrough.
He has been boosted by the support of leading Tory ‘Spartan’ Mark Francois and ex-Cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith, and Steve Baker, head of the Eurosceptic ERG bloc, today urged his colleagues to fall into line.
There is mounting speculation that at least a dozen Labour MPs would support the package dramatically thrashed out with Brussels this week. That would offset furious opposition from his former DUP allies and Jeremy Corbyn, and put the premier on the threshold of an historic triumph that could define the country for a generation.
However, despite polls showing the public is weary of three years of bitter wrangling after the referendum, an extraordinary piece of Parliamentary trickery could yet deprive the PM of the ‘clean’ vote he craves on his deal.
Sir Oliver – who served in Cabinet under David Cameron – has tabled an amendment that would effectively deny approval of the deal until after detailed implementation law has been passed.
Speaker John Bercow confirmed this morning that he had selected the change for debate, and it could be passed with support from Labour and Lib Dem Remainers, many of whom still want a referendum to cancel Brexit altogether.
The fact that Letwin’s amendment does not outright kill the deal – and the government’s lack of a majority – means that many MPs will endorse the amendment instead of giving the Prime Minister his moment of truth.
Labour MP Gareth Snell, who is widely expected to support the deal when it comes to a vote, told the Commons he would back the Letwin move.
However, it was angrily condemned by a series of other MPs including Labour’s Caroline Flint, who branded it a ‘panic measure’. She said the plot demonstrated that the ‘sponsors of the Benn Act had only one intention – to delay Brexit and stop it’.
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