Brexit vote setback for Boris Johnson in Parliament

By Rob Picheta, CNN

Updated 7:44 a.m. ET, October 21, 2019
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6:41 a.m. ET, October 19, 2019

Why the Letwin amendment kills Boris Johnson's momentum

Analysis from CNN's Luke McGee in Westminster

 TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images
 TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images

On Friday morning, Boris Johnson had a spring in his step.

He'd returned from Brussels with a new Brexit withdrawal deal. Most of his own party supports it, and although Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party is withholding support, opposition lawmakers were lining up behind the deal.

Johnson was making clear to these supporters of a softer Brexit that if they don't vote for his deal, then they make a no-deal crash out a real possibility. And for some hours, Johnson's "my deal or no deal" gambit was working.

Then Oliver Letwin published his amendment, killing Johnson's momentum.

The Letwin amendment essentially means that the government cannot pass the deal in full until all of the Brexit legislation has passed. Letwin says that his aim is to provide a safety net to avoid an accidental no deal.

The government thinks that it's a plot to delay Brexit and prevent the UK from leaving the EU. They might have a point. Johnson is obliged by law to request a Brexit extension if no formal deal is agreed by the House of Commons at 11 p.m. tonight. The Letwin amendment effectively makes meeting that requirement impossible.

Letwin has presented MPs with an alternative to the "my deal or no deal" threat issued by Johnson and the government. And for now, it's killed dead the rush of support for the Prime Minister.

6:31 a.m. ET, October 19, 2019

Brexit Secretary urges Oliver Letwin to pull amendment

Steve Barclay, the Brexit Secretary, has asked Oliver Letwin to pull his amendment, which would withhold support on Prime Minister Boris Johnson's deal until the subsequent legislation has passed and a no-deal Brexit has been avoided.

The amendment "would render today's vote meaningless," says Barclay. "The public will be appalled by pointless further delay."

"I ask my right honorable friend, in that spirit, to withdraw his amendment," Barclay says, facing Letwin on the backbenches.

6:41 a.m. ET, October 19, 2019

Back the deal or face an election, Downing Street says

From CNN’s Luke McGee in Westminster

If Parliament blocks Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal on Saturday, the alternative is an election, the Prime Minister’s political spokesman said.

He says the public would expect Parliament to do whatever it takes to get Brexit done by October 31 and that a vote for the Letwin amendment is a vote for delay.

Johnson would have to table a motion to secure an election, and Parliament would have to vote for it -- which they have refused to do so thus far.

Meanwhile, the PM’s spokesman said the EU believes there is enough time to ratify the deal by the deadline at the end of the month.

He added that the government’s focus is making sure the Letwin amendment doesn’t pass.

5:51 a.m. ET, October 19, 2019

A penny for Theresa May's thoughts

Former Prime Minister Theresa May is watching opposition MPs attack Boris Johnson's deal in the Commons, after she failed to pass her own agreement three times.

Ian Blackford, the SNP's Westminster leader, told the chamber Johnson's deal is "worse" than May's pact -- which prompted a stern glare from May.

Watch the moment above.

5:34 a.m. ET, October 19, 2019

Chair of hardline group says they'll back the deal

Steve Baker, the chair or the all-important ERG group of hardline Conservative backbenchers, confirms that the bloc is supporting the deal.

Several of the group's members, who blocked ex-PM Theresa May's deal from passing, had previously confirmed they would support the bill.

That gives Johnson as many as 28 additional votes for his deal, putting it on the cusp of success. But just a few holdouts from within the ERG's ranks could still prove crucial.

5:09 a.m. ET, October 19, 2019

BREAKING: Downing Street will pull Brexit vote if Letwin amendment passes

Boris Johnson will pull the vote on his Brexit deal later if Oliver Letwin's amendment passes, a senior government source has told CNN.

MPs would be sent home, the source says, and the government would introduce the Withdrawal Agreement Bill – the legislation that implements the deal – to the House of Commons early next week. The source said:

"A vote for Letwin is a vote for delay and the Whips will send everyone home. A vote for Letwin means MPs voting to render the entire day, that they demanded, meaningless."

What does this mean? In a sense, this could just be read as spin by Downing Street. If the Letwin amendment passes, any subsequent vote on Johnson's deal would be moot anyway, since it has the effect of delaying ratification until the Withdrawal Agreement Bill completes all its stages in the UK Parliament. Downing Street is doing its level best to kill off the Letwin amendment and force a clean, up-or-down vote on Johnson's deal.

5:20 a.m. ET, October 19, 2019

Ignore Corbyn's pleadings, Johnson urges MPs

"I don't wish to be unnecessarily adversarial today," Boris Johnson says, replying to Corbyn's speech, but he says the leader of the opposition "won't trust the people."

Johnson adds that MPs should "ignore the pleadings of (Corbyn) and vote for an excellent deal."

Ken Clarke, the longest-serving current MP who was expelled by Johnson from the Conservative Party for opposing no-deal, then asks the prime minister to assure him that he will secure a close future arrangement with the EU.

Johnson says that "those who set the agenda in Brussels ... continue with a large number of federalist projects," but pledges that there will be "increasing trade between our economies."

Ian Blackford, the SNP Westminster leader, then bemoans the fact that Scotland was not mentioned once in the text of Johnson's deal, despite it voting overwhelmingly to remain in the EU.

"He and his cronies in Number ten don't care about Scotland," Blackford says.

5:07 a.m. ET, October 19, 2019

Future generations will feel the impact of this deal, says Corbyn

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn says Prime Minister Boris Johnson has taken his predecessor Theresa May's thrice-rejected Brexit deal "and made it worse" -- adding that lawmakers "will not be duped."

"This deal would inevitably lead to a Trump trade deal," he adds.

"As for workers' rights, we simply cannot give the government a blank check," Corbyn says, quoting representatives from business groups who have warned about the impact of Johnson's deal.

"It's not a good deal for our country, and future generations will feel the impact. It should be voted down today by this House.

"We simply cannot vote for a deal that is even worse than the one the House rejected three times."

Supporting the government would "fire the starting pistol in a race to the bottom," says Corbyn.

"You cannot trust a word that he says," says Corbyn of Johnson.

The opposition leader says that "the people should have the final say" on Brexit. "We will not back this sell-out deal."

4:58 a.m. ET, October 19, 2019

Little appetite in Europe for a delay, says Johnson

Boris Johnson has gone through the Northern Ireland provisions in his new Brexit deal, and is urging the House of Commons to reject another delay.

"In any future trade negotiations, with any country, our National Health Service will not be on the table," he says, attempting to dampen fears that that would be the case in trade negotiations with the US.

"The scope for fruitful negotiation has run its course," Johnson says.

"They said we couldn't open the Withdrawal Agreement ... they said we couldn't abolish the backstop. We've done both," he adds.

"It is now my judgement that we have reached the best possible solution," he notes, before suggesting that further delay would be bad for both sides and may not be agreed by the EU.

"There is very little appetite" in Europe for another extension, he says. "They have had three and a half years of this debate. it has distracted them from their own projects and their own ambitions."