British MPs do not assent to Brexit deal

British houses of parliament seen across river at sunset

The British MPs have voted 322 to 306 to withhold assent to the new Brexit deal.

They were asked to assent to a motion accepting the new deal, but instead passed the 'Letwin Amendment' which says they will "withhold approval" from the deal unless all of the legislation required to implement the bill is passed by Parliament as well.

It means that the Benn Act comes into play now – a law which says the prime minister must write to ask the EU for an extension until January (it also says other suggestions by the EU for dates can be considered).

The Benn Act – the passing of which led to 21 Conservative MPs who supported it being expelled from the parliamentary party – said the prime minister must ask for an extension if no motion has been passed by Parliament assenting to the deal by the end of today.

They are not going to assent today, but the prime minister says he will not ‘negotiate a delay’.

No one knows what is going to happen now.

Many commentators say the EU are unlikely to reject an extension but it is not guaranteed.

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Twitter he favours a delay: “Poland welcomes today’s House of Commons vote not as a rejection of the Withdrawal Agreement but as postponement of its acceptance. Avoiding a chaotic, no-deal Brexit should be our top priority.”

Mina Andreeva, the spokesperson for the EU Commission, tweeted: "EU 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."

On Thursday the EU Commission’s president, Jean-Claude Juncker, speaking in Brussels to reporters, insisted the deal “has to” be approved by the MPs and “there will be no prolongation”.

“We have concluded a deal and so there is not an argument for further delay – it has to be done now,” he said.

However he does not have a final say – that would be for the European Council, which he sits on along with the council’s president Donald Tusk and the heads of state or government of the 27 EU states.

Just one of them could veto an extension because a decision to extend again must be unanimous.

President Macron said yesterday he did not want to make predictions but he thought that another extension would not be agreed and it was time to move on.

The leaders have only just left their latest summit – and would have to organise another one to approve this.

If the deal is not ratified before October 31 and there is no extension a no-deal Brexit is expected to happen.​

In fact in article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU law that sets out how a country can leave the EU, the only role allotted to the leaving country is to decide to leave ‘with its own constitutional requirements’, then notify the EU of its intention to leave and then to negotiate a withdrawal agreement with the EU and a ‘framework’ for their future relationship.

Together the latter are what is referred to as ‘the deal’ – a withdrawal agreement  on matters like the ‘divorce payment’, Northern Ireland, citizens’ rights and a transition period, plus a non-binding 'political declaration on the future relationship'.​

However the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 – a piece of UK legislation repealing the right of EU bodies to pass laws for the UK which would only come into force after Brexit –  included an amendment which said that for the deal to be ratified the UK’s House of Commons must approve a motion to accept it.

It also added that an act of Parliament must be passed containing provisions for the implementation of the withdrawal agreement.

Some commentators suspected some right-wing Brexiter MPs were today seeking to assent to the motion being debated to accept the deal, but they would then try to delay the act of parliament implementing it so the UK left with no deal anyway. The Letwin Amendment was partly aimed at avoiding that.

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