New Blow to Johnsons Brexit Plan as Vote on Deal Blocked

LONDON—Britain faced another week of political gridlock after Prime Minister Boris Johnson was denied a chance Oct. 21 to hold a vote by lawmakers on his Brexit divorce bill.

With just 10 days before Britains scheduled departure date, Johnsons government had sought a “straight up-and-down vote” on the agreement he struck last week with the 27 other EU nations laying out the terms of Britains exit.

But the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, refused to allow it because lawmakers voted to delay approving the Brexit deal on Oct. 19, and parliamentary rules bar the same measure from being considered a second time during a session of Parliament unless something has changed.

Bercows ruling plunged the tortuous Brexit process back into grimly familiar territory. The government must now try to implement its Plan B—attempt to pass a Brexit-implementing bill through Britains fractious Parliament before the countrys scheduled Oct. 31 departure date.

Bercow—whose rulings in favor of backbench lawmakers have stymied government plans more than once before—said the motion proposed by the government was “in substance the same” as the one Parliament dealt with on Oct. 19. He said it would be “repetitive and disorderly” to allow a new vote Oct. 21.

On Oct. 19—during Parliaments first weekend sitting since the 1982 Falklands War—lawmakers voted to make support for the Brexit deal conditional on passing the legislation to implement it.

Johnsons Conservative government will now try to do that. The government published the 115-page bill late Oct. 21, was to hold the first vote on it Oct. 22 and hopes to have it become law by Oct. 31.

But its unclear whether Johnson has either the time or the numbers to make that happen.

Passing a bill usually takes weeks, but the government wants to get this one done in 10 days. Johnson needs a majority in Parliament to pass it, but his Conservatives hold just 288 of the 650 House of Commons seats.

The process also gives lawmakers another chance to scrutinize—and possibly change—the legislation.

Opposition lawmakers plan to seek amendments that could substantially alter the bill, for example by adding a requirement that the Brexit deal be put to voters in a new referendum. The government says such an amendment would wreck its legislation and it will withdraw the bill if it succeeds.

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay urged lawmakers to back the bill and—more than three years after British voters narrowly voted to leave the EU—”enable us to move onto the peoples priorities like health, education, and crime.”

“This is the chance to leave the EU with a deal on Oct. 31,” he said. “If Parliament wants to respect the referendum, it must back the bill.”

With the Brexit deadline looming and British politicians still squabbling over the countrys departure terms, Johnson has been forced to ask the EU for a three-month delay to Britains departure date.

He did that, grudgingly, to comply with a law passed by Parliament ordering the government to postpone Brexit, rather than risk the economic damage that could come from a no-deal exit. But Johnson accompanied the unsigned letter to the EU late Oct. 19 with a second note saying that he personally opposed delaying Brexit.

Pro-EU activists, who took the government to court in Scotland to ensure that it complied with the law, said the second letter might amount to an attempt to frustrate the legislation. Scotlands highest court said Oct. 21 it would keep the case open, retaining the power to censure Johnsons government until its obligations under the law have been complied with “in full.”

The claimants lawyer, Elaine Motion, said the ruling meant “the sword of Damocles remains hanging” over the government.

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