MPs reject British PM's effort to shorten Brexit debate

By Nicholas Sakelaris & Sommer Brokaw
A British-EU flag is seen on a table Tuesday during a debate at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. Photo by Patrick Seeger/EPA-EFE
A British-EU flag is seen on a table Tuesday during a debate at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. Photo by Patrick Seeger/EPA-EFE

Oct. 22 (UPI) -- British Parliament members rejected Tuesday Prime Minister Boris Johnson's attempt to set a three-day window on debate of a Brexit bill despite his threat to pull the bill rather than delay leaving the European Union.

Parliament members rejected the motion to shorten the debate on the 110-page Withdrawal Agreement Bill in a 322 to 308 vote Tuesday.


Chancellor Sajid Javid had declined to publish a financial impact review of Johnson's deal and some supporters said they could not allow the shortened three-day timetable for debate.

Johnson had threatened earlier in the day to pull the Withdrawal Agreement Bill and call a general election if Parliament continues to delay the divorce from the European Union until January.

Since taking over as prime minister in July, Johnson has been adamant that Britain will leave on Oct. 31.


"I will in no way allow months more of this -- if Parliament refuses to allow Brexit to happen and instead gets its way and decides to delay everything until January, in no circumstances will the government continue with this," Johnson told Parliament Tuesday. "With great regret, the bill will have to be pulled and we will have to go forward with a general election."

In reality, the prime minister can't call a general election without a two-thirds majority vote by Parliament. The Labor Party has said it would only support a general election if there's a guarantee that a no-deal Brexit cannot happen on Oct. 31.

Labor Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn said the withdrawal agreement would be a "disaster" for Britain. He's pushing for Britain to negotiate an "appropriate deal" with the EU and then put that to a referendum vote of the people.

Liberal Democrat spokesman Tom Brake said Johnson's threat to pull the bill if Parliament doesn't agree to his timeline is "childish blackmail."

"We will continue to fight to give the people the final say through a people's vote with the option to stay in the EU," Brake said.

Parliament did not approve Johnson's Withdrawal Agreement Bill last weekend and the prime minister's push for another vote Monday failed.


A vote on the principles of how Britain will exit the EU in a second reading passed earlier Tuesday in the House of Commons by a 329 to 299 vote though some said they could still reject it at a later stage in the process if they're unable to amend it.

"Let's go for a deal that can heal this country and allow us to believe in ourselves once again," Johnson tweeted.

The second vote will determine whether Johnson can push his agreement through the House of Commons by the end of Thursday. If both votes are successful, Britain can still make the Oct. 31 departure deadline. If they're not, a three-month extension -- pushing the departure date back to Jan. 31 -- will be all but certain.

Parliament declined to hold a yes-or-no vote on the deal last weekend, mainly because these details have yet to be approved.

Johnson is bound by British law to seek the extension, and his office has said the request has already been made. The prime minister could also decide to abandon the new deal, reached in Belgium last week, altogether.

"Ministers are trying to bounce [lawmakers] into signing off a bill that could cause huge damage to our country," said Brexit Shadow Secretary Keir Starmer, a leader in the opposition Labor Party. "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."


EU lawmakers would need to approve any deal after it passes British Parliament.

Outgoing European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker expressed disappointment Tuesday and said the exit process -- which, on his watch, has involved two British prime ministers and several variations of a proposed settlement -- has been a "waste" of time and energy.

"I will always regret the United Kingdom's decision to leave the Union," he said. "But at least we can look at ourselves in the eye and say that we have done all in our power to make sure that this departure is orderly."

Juncker will be succeeded by commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen on Nov. 2.

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