(CN) – “Super Saturday” turned into a super letdown for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his ardent Brexit backers.
In what was billed as “Super Saturday,” Parliament was called into an extremely rare Saturday session for a momentous up-or-down vote on a Brexit deal Johnson struck with the EU. Instead, the vote was derailed by a parliamentary maneuver.
By a 322-306 vote, Parliament forced Johnson to write a letter to the EU asking it to push back an Oct. 31 Brexit deadline. This was the first weekend session of Parliament in 37 years, the last being in 1982 during the Falklands War.
Members of Johnson’s own party, the Conservatives, were crucial in passing the amendment. The vote underscored how little trust many in Parliament have in Johnson and how deep the Brexit impasse is.
Outside of Parliament, meanwhile, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of London to call for a second referendum. Television images showed a sea of people in support of this anti-Brexit movement.
“Together for the final say,” one banner read. At one gathering, protesters shouted in unison: “People’s vote! People’s vote!”
Many feel that the United Kingdom needs to hold a second referendum on Brexit – a so-called “people’s vote” – because only now does the public really understand all the issues involved with the U.K.’s exit from the EU. In 2016, 52% of U.K. voters opted to leave the EU in a referendum.
Tensions were also high in London with key figures of Parliament needing to be escorted away by police and pro-Brexit and anti-Brexit groups taunting each other.
Saturday’s parliamentary maneuver was crafted as an insurance policy to prevent Johnson from taking the United Kingdom out of the European Union on Oct. 31 without a deal, as the prime minister has promised he would do if it came to that.
The vote grew out of complicated parliamentary plotting against Johnson and his Brexit plans. His opponents argue his Brexit deal will lead to lowered workers’ and environmental standards, deregulation and divide the U.K.
Supporters of Saturday’s amendment said it was crucial to ensure Johnson cannot force the U.K. out of the EU on Oct. 31 without a deal. Also, some parliamentarians said they need more time to scrutinize the details of his deal, which was announced on Thursday.
A visibly dejected Johnson then opted not to put his deal to a so-called up-or-down “meaningful vote” on Saturday. Instead, it appears Parliament will vote on the deal as early as Monday.
“The meaningful vote has been voided of meaning,” he told Parliament.
He then provoked his opponents by saying that he would not “negotiate a delay with the EU” even though Parliament has required him to seek a delay. He was legally bound to submit the delay request by the end of Saturday.
Parliament has voted for a new Brexit deadline to be postponed until Jan. 31 if a deal has not been approved. It remains unclear what kind of the delay the EU will grant, or even if it will grant one.
“Further delay would be bad for this country, bad for the European Union, bad for democracy,” Johnson said.
Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the main opposition Labour Party, called the vote “an emphatic decision by this House” to stop “a no-deal crash out of the European Union.”
Labour and other opposition parties see Johnson as seeking to pressure Parliament into backing his deal or face the U.K. leaving the EU without a deal. Saturday’s vote prevented this form of “blackmail,” Corbyn insisted.
“Today is a historic day for Parliament because it said it will not be blackmailed by the prime minister,” Corbyn said.
Johnson also saw his former allies, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, vote against him Saturday. That party is livid with Johnson because it feels betrayed by the prime minister after he struck a deal with the EU that keeps Northern Ireland tied to EU rules, customs and regulations.
In voting against Johnson, the DUP’s leader in the House, Nigel Dodds, said Parliament would now have more time to examine the effects of the deal.
Sammy Wilson, a DUP member, told Sky News television after the vote that his pro-Brexit party cannot support Johnson’s deal because it keeps Northern Ireland tied to the EU while the rest of the U.K. is not. For Northern Ireland’s pro-British unionists, this arrangement threatens to shift power in Northern Ireland to Dublin and Ireland.
“I am an ardent Brexiteer,” Wilson said. “But it would be very unusual for me as a Brexiteer to vote for a deal that leaves Northern Ireland tied to the EU.”
Saturday’s vote was a setback for Johnson who appeared to be gaining support for his deal among fellow Conservatives, who are also divided over Brexit. Many wavering in their support for the deal were coming on board and British media said the vote was going to be extremely close.
(Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.)