Saturday’s vote requires the prime minister to ask the EU to extend the Brexit withdrawal date a third time, tentatively until January 31, 2020, or another date of Brussels’ choosing. Lawmakers boxed Johnson in on the issue last month, passing legislation known as the Benn Act which says that the prime minister would be legally required to send off the Brexit postponement request unless MPs had approved a Brexit deal by October 19, i.e. today.
But Johnson remains defiant, saying after the vote that he would not negotiate another postponement.
The prime minister and Brexit opponents now have several options.
- The UK could still leave the bloc by Johnson’s promised date of October 31 if he refuses to send the letter requesting a delay to the leaders of other EU members, although this may result in a legal challenge from his colleagues and the courts.
- Johnson has at least one other avenue of approach. His government plans to put forward legislation to ratify his deal with Brussels in the house on Monday, with the first vote on whether or not to ratify it possible as early as Tuesday. Johnson’s Conservatives, but also some MPs who voted in favour of Saturday’s amendment, including amendment author independent Oliver Letwin, have hinted that they might support the Brexit deal if the government backs away from its threat to exit the bloc without a deal.
- However, anti-Brexiteers have their own tools. For example, they may seek to amend the government’s Brexit ratification by making their approval contingent on a second referendum on the UK’s EU membership, this time devoted to the proposed deal reached by Johnson and EU negotiators. This is the official position of Britain’s Labour opposition. Alternatively, lawmakers could simply delay approval of any bill on Brexit, running down the clock until October 31.
- If Johnson does make a request to delay the UK’s EU exit, this will require the approval from Brussels and the EU’s 27 other members. France’s president has already indicated that another delay was “in nobody’s interest.” After reaching the deal with Johnson last week, which included UK concessions on the Irish border, other leaders similarly said that they did not want another delay. At the same time, the European Parliament cannot ratify the Brexit deal until the Commons passes all relevant withdrawal legislation.
- Britons voted to leave the European Union in a referendum held in June 2016, with 51.89 percent voting to leave the bloc and 48.11 percent voting to stay in. The political chaos which followed has already led to the resignation of two prime ministers, two extensions, two prorogations of parliament, a Supreme Court judgement ruling Prime Minister Johnson’s prorogation unconstitutional, and defections from both major parties.