Saturday marked two significant political events: the first emergency sitting of parliament on a Saturday since the Falklands conflict; and the “People’s March for a final say” demonstration in London.
The March attracted the participation of a crowd estimated to be above one million people, demanding that the Brexit question be put back to the electorate in a choice between whatever deal the government ends up with and remaining in the EU. Since July 2017, there has been a consistent polling lead for remaining in the EU.
Having secured his agreement with the EU at the 11th hour, Johnson convened a highly unusual sitting of parliament on Saturday with the intention of forcing through a “meaningful vote” (as required by an amendment by Dominic Grieve to legislation brought forward by Mrs May) which could have meant that he avoided the need to request an extension of the UK’s A50 notice period as required by the Benn Act, should he not have been able to get agreement by (that) Saturday night.
On Friday, MPs won the right to table amendments to motions being debated on the next day and an amendment put forward by Oliver Letwin (Conservative) was debated on Saturday. The amendment reserved any approval of the (new) Withdrawal Bill until all of the legislation that it required had been approved by the Commons. It passed and so Johnson pulled the formal vote on his proposal.
An attempt to revisit the “meaningful vote” on Monday’s session was refused by the Speaker on the grounds that it had already been voted on on Saturday and parliamentary rules precluded repeated votes on the same matter in a parliamentary session, unless it was substantially different than the version already discussed: it wasn’t.
The Bill itself was introduced last night and the government is hopeful that parliament will agree to its demands that the whole matter can be debated and voted on in three working days. Were this to happen, the UK could leave the EU by the end of October. In compliance (more of less) with the law, Johnson sent an unsigned photocopy of a document requesting an extension to the A50 period together with two other documents to the EU. The EU has said that it has accepted the request and is now considering its response.
This is likely to be the make or break week for Brexit and, quite possibly, the Johnson administration. The opposition Labour party is considering amending the Withdrawal agreement to require that the UK remains in the EU’s Custom Union (garlic to ERG vampires) and requiring a confirmatory vote on any deal. The numbers in parliament are too close to call as to what is likely to happen, as matters stand. Naturally, there is real anger in parliament at the decision to restrict debate to just 3 days and it is possible that the government’s business motion could be defeated – if that happens then the UK would remain in the EU beyond the 1st of November (assuming that the EU agrees to grant an extension, of course).