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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4:20 a.m. ET, October 19, 2019

What is the Letwin amendment -- and could it really change everything?

Today will absolutely, categorically determine the future of Brexit. Unless it doesn't.

An amendment to Boris Johnson's deal has the potential to shake everything up. The measure has been proposed by Oliver Letwin, an MP who was booted out of the Conservative parliamentary party last month when he supported anti no-deal legislation known as the Benn Act.

The amendment says the House would "withhold support" from Johnson's plan until all of the legislation required to implement the bill is passed by Parliament as well.

It would force Johnson to request a Brexit extension on Saturday night, as per the Benn Act, and remove the risk of no deal in a few days' time. But it still allows Johnson to pass his Brexit deal -- he just has to pass all the separate parts of the Withdrawal Agreement as well.

Nick Boles, who has co-signed the amendment, suggested the vote on the amendment could be read as a political indication of whether the House would support the deal, but not as a legal endorsement of the deal. (Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson has also signed the amendment, despite being opposed to Brexit altogether).

What does this mean for Saturday? If Letwin's amendment passes -- and it enjoys support from a cross-section of parties -- it would mean that Saturday isn't the be-all-and-end-all. Instead, the subsequent votes on the Withdrawal Agreement in the coming weeks become all-important, because they would need to be approved if the Brexit deal is to come into effect.

What does it mean for Brexit? If the Letwin proposal comes into effect, the government's plans to leave the EU by October 31 would be thrown into the air. Such an outcome opens up the possibility that the entire withdrawal agreement could be amended, for example with a requirement to hold a second referendum on the final outcome.

Will it pass? The amendment is signed by members of the three main political parties, including the aforementioned Hilary Benn, and the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Jo Swinson. But everything hinges on whether the Labour leadership decides to swing its entire bloc behind it. The Guardian's political editor, who is well connected in Labour circles, thinks it might, as does Bloomberg.

3:54 a.m. ET, October 19, 2019

Does Boris Johnson have the numbers?

Boris Johnson's battle to pass his Brexit deal is certain to come down to just a few votes. There are three crucial blocs of lawmakers in play:

  • Hardline Conservatives: There are 28 self-styled "Spartans" -- hardline Conservative MPs who voted down Theresa May's deal all three times, and back a hard Brexit. A handful of those are now on the government's payroll, so are almost certain to back the deal. And some, including European Research Group (ERG) head Steve Baker, have signaled a willingness to back the plan once they've picked through it in more detail. But they're not a totally homogeneous block, and even a couple of holdouts could spell doom for Johnson.
  • Ex-Conservative independents: Johnson took the whip away from 21 Conservative MPs last month, after they voted to block a no-deal Brexit. Many of them are expected to back the deal now, while a handful who support a second referendum are likely noes. But some, including former Cabinet members Amber Rudd, Philip Hammond and Ken Clarke, haven't said which way they'll vote yet.
  • Labour rebels: Five Labour MPs backed Theresa May's deal, but as many as 20 could be up for grabs this time. With an election looming and several of these lawmakers representing Leave-voting regions, they could make the calculation that backing a Brexit deal is vital to electoral success. What's more, there's been no sign that Jeremy Corbyn will expel those who support the government.

Johnson appears to have won over most of the hardliners, and a number of independents also seem to have been swayed. It could all come down to how many Labour MPs he can convince; around 10 could be enough.

3:38 a.m. ET, October 19, 2019

Getting a deal was the easy part. Now comes the difficult bit

Analysis from CNN's Luke McGee

Welcome to what might be one of the most important days in British political history.

Earlier this week, Boris Johnson did the near impossible and secured a new Brexit deal from the European Union.

Astonishingly, after months of saying that Theresa May's deal could not be changed, the EU shocked everyone by throwing out the controversial Irish border backstop and replacing it with an alternative plan, cooked up by team Johnson.

Even more astonishingly, EU leaders seem happy with this deal and have been effusive about Johnson -- the man with whom they dreaded negotiating.

However impressive Johnson's Brussels victory might be, securing it could turn out to be the easiest bit of the Brexit process.

The UK Parliament is sitting on a Saturday for the first time in decades, where lawmakers will give Johnson the thumbs up or thumbs down. The immediate fallout of that vote could have profound consequences for the future of the United Kingdom.

3:34 a.m. ET, October 19, 2019

It's Super Saturday

After three and a half years of agonising debate, Saturday could be the day that Brexit is secured.

Boris Johnson is bringing his new deal to a vote in Parliament in an emergency Saturday sitting -- just the fifth time in history that lawmakers have met on the weekend.

And unlike Theresa May, he might just have the numbers to pass it.

If he doesn't, all hell breaks loose -- with Johnson mandated by law to request a Brexit delay, and a winter general election becoming very likely.

If he does, Britain will be set to leave the EU in just a few days' time on October 31.

Meanwhile, an amendment to the bill has the potential to change everything, and leave us all scratching our heads for another few days.

Either way, prepare for a passionate debate and a razor-tight vote on Super Saturday.