Prime Minister Boris Johnson will again try to put his Brexit deal to a vote in the U.K. Parliament on Monday after he was forced by his opponents to send a letter seeking a delay from the European Union.
With the U.K. due to leave the EU on Oct. 31, the divorce is again in disarray as Britain’s political class argue over whether to leave with a deal, exit without a deal or hold another referendum.
Although Johnson hammered out a deal in gruelling talks with EU officials last week, it was not certain the Speaker of the House of Commons would allow a vote on the deal on Monday.
Johnson was ambushed by opponents in Parliament on Saturday who demanded a change to the sequencing of the ratification of the deal, exposing the prime minister to a law which demanded he request a delay until Jan. 31.
In a twist that illustrates the extent to which Brexit has strained the norms of statecraft, Johnson sent the note to the EU unsigned — and added another signed letter arguing against what he cast as a deeply corrosive delay.
“A further extension would damage the interests of the U.K. and our EU partners, and the relationship between us,” Johnson said his own letter, signed “Boris Johnson.”
The government insisted on Sunday the country will leave the EU on Oct. 31, and plans to put the deal to a vote in Parliament later on Monday though it is unclear if the House of Commons speaker will allow such a vote.
The EU has not yet given a clear response.
The U.K. government has proposed a debate on the deal, according to the House of Commons order paper that says Speaker John Bercow will make a statement on the proceedings shortly after Parliament opens.
Bercow is thought to be unlikely to allow it on the grounds that this would repeat Saturday’s debate, but has not yet given his formal decision.
If Bercow, who said on Saturday he was blindsided by the government’s debate proposal, does not allow it, the government will have to try to push on with the legislation needed for ratification of Johnson’s deal.
But that path exposes Johnson to attempts by opponents to wreck the agreement.
Tortuous Brexit crisis
The EU, which has grappled with the tortuous Brexit crisis since Britons voted 52 per cent to 48 per cent to leave in a 2016 referendum, was clearly bewildered by the contradictory signals from London.
With Brexit up in the air, the bloc’s ambassadors decided on Sunday to play for time rather than rush to decide on Johnson’s request.
From the EU’s point of view, extension options range from just an additional month until the end of November to half a year or longer.
“We’re looking for more clarity towards the end of the week, hoping that by that time we will also see how things develop in London,” one senior EU diplomat said.
It was unlikely that the EU’s 27 remaining member states would refuse the U.K.’s request to delay once again its departure, given the impact on all parties of a no-deal Brexit.
In London, Johnson’s ministers said they were confident they had the numbers to push a deal through Parliament where opponents were plotting to derail the deal he had assured the EU that he could ratify.
The opposition Labour Party was planning changes to the deal that would make it unacceptable to swathes of Johnson’s own party including a proposals for another referendum.