Johnson Defeated Again as Brexit Deadlock Rules in UK Parliament

Flags and an umbrella are tied to railings across from Britain’s parliament buildings in London on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

(CN) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson suffered another defeat in Parliament over his Brexit strategy Tuesday night, leaving the United Kingdom facing the likelihood it will not be exiting the European Union at the end of October.

In a crucial vote, Parliament voted 322-308 against Johnson’s plan to ram through a withdrawal agreement from the EU in just three days. His opponents in the House of Commons disagreed with that quick timetable and said his withdrawal proposals needed more time to be scrutinized.

It was a major setback for Johnson, who had only minutes before won Parliament’s approval to begin the legislative process to approve a deal he recently struck with the EU over the U.K.’s exit from the bloc.

After his defeat on the question of how long Parliament would have to scrutinize the deal – and crucially how long it would have to amend the deal in ways that Johnson and his allies would likely find disagreeable – the prime minister said his government would stop his Brexit deal from moving ahead.

The bottom line is that the Brexit process is where it has been for months: At an impasse and its outcome unclear. It was another night of political drama and a display of political instability.

The next step in this long-running political drama will center on European leaders setting a new deadline for the U.K.’s withdrawal from the EU.

The U.K. was supposed to leave the EU on March 29, but that deadline came and went after a deeply divided House of Commons rejected a divorce deal proposed by former Prime Minister Theresa May. The EU then set a new deadline for Oct. 31. Now that deadline too looks like it will need to be pushed back. The EU is now considering how long of an extension to grant.

To break the impasse in Parliament, where Johnson’s Conservative Party does not command a majority, the prime minister is seeking to call a general election. But his opponents are refusing to force an election just yet. First, they say, they want a new Brexit deadline to be set and to make sure Johnson is unable to force the U.K. out of the EU without a deal.

After the vote, opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said the House “refused to be bounced” into accepting the deal on such a short time-frame.

“The prime minister is the author of his own misfortune,” Corbyn said and suggested Johnson work with the opposition benches and agree to “a reasonable timetable” to debate the deal.

Johnson, though, said his government would “pause” the legislative process to approve the deal. In effect, he pulled the deal from consideration before the House.

“We now face further uncertainty,” Johnson told Parliament.

Still, it wasn’t all negative for Johnson. Nineteen Labour members who represent constituencies where there is strong support for Brexit voted in favor of Johnson’s deal.

Johnson said it was “even joyful” that the House had “come together, and embraced a deal.”

In fact, the vote in favor of the deal by rebels in the Labour Party and dissenters in the Conservative Party was more about political positioning than genuine support for the deal.

The deal Johnson struck with the EU is not to the liking of many in Parliament because it splits Northern Ireland off economically from the rest of the U.K., raises the risk of serious trade and political barriers being erected between the U.K. and the EU in the near future, and may lead to weakening standards on consumer goods, workers’ rights and the environment.

Alastair Campbell, a political commentator and former communications director for Labour, said on Sky News that Johnson was seeking to ram through his deal because if Parliament was granted more time, it would find faults with it and a fragile coalition backing it would come apart.

“He doesn’t want the scrutiny that would make this deal fall apart,” Campbell said.

(Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.)

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