Boris Johnson faces having his moment of triumph snatched away by an ‘act of sabotage’ today despite being within touching distance of getting a majority for his deal in a massive ‘Super Saturday’ showdown.
A wrecking amendment tabled by former Cabinet minister Sir Oliver Letwin is set to prevent the PM’s deal being put to a formal vote, forcing him to beg the EU for an extension.
The threat came as Mr Johnson has been frantically trying to win over the last few wavering MPs with the numbers on a knife edge.
He has been boosted overnight by the support of leading Tory ‘Spartan’ Mark Francois and ex-Cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith, while there is mounting speculation that at least a dozen Labour MPs will support the package dramatically thrashed out with Brussels this week.
That would offset furious opposition from his former DUP allies and Jeremy Corbyn, and put the premier on the threshold of an historic triumph that could define the country for a generation.
Amid polls showing the public is weary of three years of bitter wrangling after the referendum, Mr Johnson has told politicians that ‘today we can get Brexit done’.
However, an extraordinary piece of Parliamentary trickery could yet deprive the PM of the ‘clean’ vote he craves on his deal.
Sir Oliver – who served in Cabinet under David Cameron – has tabled an amendment that would effectively deny approval of the deal until after detailed implementation law has been passed.
That is widely expected to be selected by Speaker John Bercow, and passed with support from Labour and Lib Dem Remainers, many of whom still want a referendum to cancel Brexit altogether.
Under the rebel Benn Act, the PM will then be forced to beg the EU for an extension by tonight – breaking his ‘do or die’ vow to get the UK out of the bloc by October 31.
One government source said: ‘If it passes, it’s an act of sabotage dressed up as reasonableness. MPs are still trying to put off the moment of decision.’
Sir Oliver insisted that he was a supporter of the Prime Minister’s plans and that it was only designed to act as an insurance policy to ensure that the UK did not leave the EU without a deal on October 31.
But a Government source said: ‘The amendment is not about conditional approval – it is explicitly withholding approval. The vast majority of the signatories have no intention of ever voting for a deal, and have never done so. They want an extension and a chance for a second referendum.’
Boris Johnson (pictured leaving Downing Street today) faces having his moment of triumph snatched away by an ‘act of sabotage’ despite being within touching distance of getting a majority for his deal
In another day of high-stakes drama at the Houses of Parliament as the Brexit saga drew towards a culmination:
- Furious Tories turned on Sir Oliver branding him ‘too clever by half’ and accusing him of making the first Saturday sitting since the Falklands War ‘meaningless’;
- Mr Johnson appealed for MPs to ‘get Brexit done’ saying that the public was sick and tired of the situation overshadowing their priorities on the NHS and law and order;
- The Eurosceptic ERG bloc is about to declare its formal position in what will be a key moment for the deal’s prospects;
- Remainers kept pushing for a second referendum with Tony Blair urging MPs to be ‘patient’ and oppose the deal so that there would need to be another public ballot;
- Former chancellor Philip Hammond suggested he will back the Letwin amendment and oppose the deal, saying he would not be tricked into support a ‘camouflaged No Deal’ at the end of the transition period;
- European leaders watched closely after Emmanuel Macron and Leo Varadkar warned there was no guarantee that they will grant any request for an extension – suggesting MPs will have to choose between this deal and No Deal.
The DUP’s 10 MPs underlined their opposition to the deal this morning, saying it would undermine the union. Deputy leader Nigel Dodds told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We will not be supporting the Government, we will be voting against.
‘Because it isn’t Brexit for the whole of the United Kingdom.’
The PM has been focusing his efforts on Tory Eurosceptics, 21 former Tory rebels, and up to 30 Labour ‘realists’ who have suggested they could line up behind the proposals. Some 28 Conservative ‘Spartans’ did not vote for Theresa May’s deal on any of the three occasions it was brought, but Mr Johnson looks set to secure backing from almost all over them.
With around a dozen Labour MPs appearing minded to defy threats of deselection and support the deal, the bulk of 21 former Tory rebels coming round, and a handful of independents, the government is on the threshold of the 320 winning line.
Mr Francois told his Rayleigh constitution association last night that he would be supporting the deal. Another ‘Spartan’ Anne-Marie Morris has also said she will be voting in favour.
Another Tory hardliner, Peter Bone, said he was yet to decide for certain but was minded to fall into line. ‘I will vote for his deal if it’s made clear in the Commons today we will leave the transition period on December 31 2020 and no later,’ Mr Bone said.
Mr Duncan Smith urged his colleagues to back the deal, and swiped that Sir Oliver should ‘stow’ his concerns.
‘I beg my colleagues… we have got to vote down the Letwin amendment,’ he told the BBC. ‘This vote has to be clear to our partners in Europe and clear to the country that we are now on a track to leave under this deal.
‘I just wish Oliver Letwin, for once, would stow it now.’ He added: ‘I beg my colleagues, it’s for the country now, we have to get this over the line.’
However, former Tory Antoinette Sandbach confirmed that she will not be joining the government in the division lobbies, saying the package is worse than Mrs May’s plan.
Meanwhile, Remainers stepped up their efforts to thwart a resulotion of Brexit standoff and force a referendum.
Former prime minister Tony Blair told the Today programme: ‘If this deal had been put before the British parliament a year ago, or two years ago, there is absolutely no way it would pass.
‘The only reason the Government can try and get it passed now is frankly… people are completely fed up with Brexit. They want it over. They want it done with.’
Voters last night threw their weight behind Mr Johnson’s Brexit deal.
On the eve of today’s dramatic Commons vote on his withdrawal plan, 50 per cent said MPs should back it.
The Survation poll for the Daily Mail showed 38 per cent were against the deal with 12 per cent undecided.
The survey found a surge in support for the Tories following the Prime Minister’s breakthrough at this week’s EU summit. They are now on 32 per cent, five points up on their tally three weeks ago. Optimism was mounting in No 10 last night that MPs will back the agreement. A source said: ‘It is incredibly close, but it is doable.’
However the situation became even more tense when Sir Oliver tabled a plan to force Mr Johnson to seek another delay to Brexit.
On a day of high drama yesterday:
- France’s Emmanuel Macron piled pressure on Remainer MPs by warning he could veto any further Brexit delay;
- Tory aides acknowledged that Sir Oliver’s move could force Mr Johnson to consider seeking another delay;
- Seven Labour MPs publicly backed the deal, despite threats that they could be deselected – a further 15 are said to be considering the move.
- Campaigners pushing for a second referendum were planning a huge march on Parliament today;
- Hardline ‘Spartan’ MPs prepared to meet this morning to decide whether to back Mr Johnson’s deal, amid signs that a hardcore will refuse;
- The Governor of the Bank of England threw his weight behind the deal, describing it as ‘good news’;
- David Trimble, an architect of the Good Friday Agreement, urged the DUP to drop its opposition;
- Mr Johnson held out an olive branch to Labour MPs by pledging an automatic right to vote on whether to adopt future EU laws on workers’ rights;
- Socialist leaders across the EU urged Jeremy Corbyn to back the deal;
Today’s poll shows that a total of 47 per cent of people say they support the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal, while 38 per cent say they are against it.
Voters were also in no doubt as to who blinked first in the EU talks – with 52 per cent saying the UK gave most ground. Only 20 per cent think Brussels backed down. A total of 47 per cent believe Mr Johnson’s plan should go to a referendum, compared with 44 against the idea.
Sir Oliver Letwin (left) has tabled an amendment that could torpedo Boris Johnson’s (right in Brussels this week) hopes of getting his deal approved by the Commons today
The survey found a surge in support for the Tories following the Prime Minister’s breakthrough at this week’s EU summit. They are now on 32 per cent, five points up on their tally three weeks ago. Optimism was mounting in No 10 last night that MPs will back the agreement. A source said: ‘It is incredibly close, but it is doable’
Mr Johnson held out an olive branch to Labour MPs by pledging an automatic right to vote on whether to adopt future EU laws on workers’ rights
When voters are given a straight choice between the Prime Minister’s deal and remaining in the EU there is a dead heat, with both sides winning 50 per cent.
Remarkably, 29 per cent of Labour voters say they would back Mr Johnson’s deal in such a referendum; 71 per cent say they would not back his deal.
But a different picture emerges if, as argued by Brexiteers, voters are given a third option of leaving with No Deal. Remain gets most support, 45 per cent, based on first preferences – though no option gets over the 50 per cent winning line. The poll showed that most of the extra backing for the Tories was at the expense of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, whose support has fallen by 3 per cent.
The results of the survey heap more humiliation on beleaguered Mr Corbyn. One in five of his own Labour voters would rather see Mr Johnson in Downing Street. Millions of Labour supporters have written off his chances of ever seizing power.
Asked who they thought will win the next election, just 31 per cent of Labour voters think Mr Corbyn: exactly the same number, 31 per cent, say Mr Johnson will beat him.
If Mr Johnson delivers his pledge to leave the EU by October 31, he can expect a further surge in his ratings. A total of 33 per cent say they will be more likely to vote Conservative; 23 per cent say they will be less likely to do so.
Moreover, if MPs throw out his proposal today, voters will not point the finger of blame at him.
A total of 42 per cent say that they will hold Parliament responsible for the delay – twice the number, 21 per cent, who say Mr Johnson will have only himself to blame for the defeat.
More than one in two (52 per cent) say the new deal ‘honours the 2016 referendum’ compared with fewer than one in three (30 per cent) who say it does not.
Asked who has the best Brexit policy, Mr Johnson is way ahead of all the main party leaders; Mr Corbyn trails in last behind Mr Farage in second place, followed by SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon and Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson.
The chasm between Mr Johnson and Mr Corbyn’s respective personal standing is illustrated by their ratings on ‘charisma’.
Here the Prime Minister scores plus 16 compared with Mr Corbyn’s minus 59.
For ‘intelligence’, Mr Johnson is plus 36 compared with the opposition leader’s minus seven.
A total of 41 per cent oppose the decision by Northern Ireland’s DUP to defy Mr Johnson today; seen as the main obstacle to him succeeding; 28 per cent say the DUP are right to oppose him.
Last night, Mr Johnson said that the showdown in the House of Commons was a ‘very big moment for our country’.
He said: ‘I think that getting it done would be a chance for us to come together as a country and move on and focus on things that really matter to people. I think the sigh of relief that would go up, not just around Britain, but around the world, would be very, very large and passionate.’
The Prime Minister also insisted his deal was the best divorce agreement possible.
Survation interviewed 1,025 adults online on Thursday afternoon and Friday.
Time to turn our backs on division and delay, Boris tells MPs
By Jason Groves for the Daily Mail
Boris Johnson urged MPs to turn their backs on ‘division and delay’ last night as he appeared to be within touching distance of a historic victory with his Brexit deal.
Speaking on the eve of his biggest parliamentary battle, the Prime Minister said there was now ‘no better outcome’ to the tortuous process of leaving the EU than MPs approving his deal.
Optimism was mounting in Downing Street last night that Mr Johnson was on course for an against-the-odds win in Parliament this afternoon.
In an interview with the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg (right), the Prime Minister urged MPs to swing behind his Brexit deal on Saturday to avoid any more ‘division and delay’
One source said: ‘It’s been a good day. Things have been shifting in the right direction and there are still some key figures in play. It is incredibly close, but it is doable.’
If passed, the Prime Minister could bring forward the legislation needed to enact withdrawal from the EU as early as Monday, with a view to steering it through Parliament before the end of the month.
Mr Johnson has told EU leaders that the Withdrawal Agreement Bill could be pushed through in just six days if Parliament sits around the clock – a fraction of the six weeks predicted by Theresa May.
In a series of broadcast interviews last night, the Prime Minister struck an emollient tone as he tried to win over a clutch of wavering Labour MPs whose support is needed to put his deal through.
LEADING ‘SPARTAN’ BACKS BORIS
Tory Eurosceptic ‘Spartans’ were torn over whether to back Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal last night – with some seeking assurances that it could still allow a No Deal departure next year.
Members of the European Research Group of Conservative MPs will meet at Westminster this morning to decide whether to support the agreement before today’s crunch vote in the Commons.
As of last night, just 12 of the 28 Spartan MPs had publicly backed Mr Johnson’s deal.
Although none had said they would oppose it, a senior Eurosceptic predicted that a significant hardcore were likely to prove impossible to persuade.
Mark Francois, the deputy chairman of the European Research Group, was among those called in to see the Prime Minister yesterday. He said he still had ‘some concerns’ about specifics of the agreement.
But John Baron, one of 28 ‘Spartan’ MPs who voted against Theresa May’s deal three times, said the terms of the new deal suggested that the UK could still end up with a No Deal Brexit when the transition period finishes in December 2020.
He said: ‘We’re seeking assurances, the devil is in the detail still, but the reason I am inclined to vote for this one is very simple. Theresa May’s backstop could have had us locked into that arrangement indefinitely.
‘Boris Johnson has torn up that backstop, which means if the trade talks are not successful, after we hopefully agree the deal here… we could leave on No Deal terms.’
Remainers leapt on Mr Baron’s statement yesterday, with the People’s Vote campaign for a second referendum claiming it showed that the Government was not sincere about wanting a trade deal.
They suggested hardline Brexiteers were instead preparing for a No Deal Brexit when the transition ended.
The support of the Spartans is critical to the Prime Minister’s hopes of getting the deal through the Commons.
However one senior Eurosceptic was pessimistic about Mr Johnson’s chances yesterday, saying: ‘There will be a hardcore of the hardcore who vote against – probably enough to be fatal.’
Privately, ministers agree that a small number of longstanding Eurosceptics, including the former Cabinet minister Sir John Redwood, will never be persuaded to back the deal.
They fear that others, such as former Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson, may be swayed to vote against the deal by their relationship with the DUP.
Mr Johnson has privately warned MPs that they will have the whip suspended if they fail to back his deal – the same punishment meted out to 21 Tories who voted with Labour to block No Deal last month.
He said: ‘I think it’s a very big moment for our country but also it’s a big moment for our democracy and parliamentarians because I do think we have a choice.
‘We have to consider how long we can delay and seem to frustrate what was a pretty clear democratic expression of the will of the people and I think that it would be a great and a fine thing if we could get it done and come together tomorrow.’
Speaking to the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg, he added: ‘I just kind of invite everybody to imagine what it could be like tomorrow evening if we have settled this and we have respected the will of the people because we will then have a chance to move on.’
Mr Johnson and senior ministers, including the Chancellor Sajid Javid, spent yesterday lobbying wavering Conservatives, among them members of the group of 21 Tories kicked out of the party last month for opposing No Deal.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister’s political secretary Danny Kruger and chief whip Mark Spencer held discreet conversations with the band of Labour MPs from Leave-supporting seats who have indicated that they could back a deal.
Ministers believe that all but a handful of the hardline ‘Spartan’ MPs will now back the deal, despite the opposition of the DUP.
And there was mounting confidence that a significant number of Labour MPs were on the brink of coming across, opening up the possibility of a remarkable victory.
Downing Street was buoyed by comments by Emmanuel Macron suggesting that he could veto a further Brexit delay.
Ministers believe the threat could give cover to wavering Labour MPs who are opposed to No Deal but nervous about backing a Tory plan.
But there was irritation at Sir Oliver Letwin after he tabled an amendment that could force Mr Johnson to seek a Brexit delay as early as tonight – something he has vowed never to do.
Sir Oliver’s amendment, which looks set to go through, could also deny the Prime Minister a clean vote on his deal.
Mr Johnson went out of his way yesterday to deny claims by Jeremy Corbyn that he plans to use Brexit to trigger a ‘race to the bottom’ on rights by tearing up EU regulations.
He said Britain was a ‘world leader’ in areas such as environmental protection and workers’ rights, adding: ‘There are ways in which we want to go further than the EU.’
The Prime Minister said his deal would unlock the right to strike free trade deals with the rest of the world, but also pledged to do a ‘jumbo free trade agreement’ with the EU as part of a ‘big, big deep and special partnership’.
He added that the deal ‘busts’ the UK out of the controversial Irish backstop, which critics said would keep Britain shackled to the EU for ever and make new trade deals impossible.
‘It busts out of [the] backstop, the previous problem with the deal that kept us locked in the customs union and the single market so, it’s a vast, vast, vast step forward,’ he said.
‘And what it also does, which is good, is it creates a period, a transition period from the end of October, end of this month – there’s a period of standstill giving certainty to business and at the end of that it is perfectly correct that we will move to the new arrangements.’
Mr Johnson also said passing today’s vote, and the withdrawal legislation to come, would help to start healing the divisions created by the Brexit process.
He added a sigh of relief would go up ‘not just around Britain, but around the world’ if MPs finally agreed to back a deal.
He said: ‘Speaking as someone who has to think about the interests of the entire country, I don’t think the way the debate has gone on has been particularly brilliant for our politics, nor has it necessarily shown our politics in the best possible light.
‘I think that getting it done would be a chance for us to come together as a country and move on and focus on things that really matter to people.’
The Letwin Plot: Tory rebel wants to stop Parliament passing the deal until all legislation is approved – so the PM is forced to ask for an extension
By Claire Ellicott for the Daily Mail
There was anger in Downing Street last night over a parliamentary move that could deny Boris Johnson a clean vote on his Brexit deal today.
Former Tory MP Sir Oliver Letwin proposed an amendment yesterday that would withhold Parliament’s final support for the agreement until all the necessary legislation for it is approved.
If passed today, the amendment will prevent MPs from holding the so-called ‘meaningful vote’ on the Prime Minister’s deal.
The Government would also have to ask the EU for an extension to Britain’s withdrawal thanks to the so-called Benn Act, passed by MPs last month, which forces the Prime Minister to apply to delay Brexit until January 31 if his deal is not passed in the Commons.
Former Tory MP Sir Oliver Letwin (pictured) proposed an amendment that would withhold Parliament’s final support for the agreement until all the necessary legislation for it is approved
Last night, Government sources accused supporters of the controversial amendment – which is likely to pass with Labour backing – of trying to frustrate Brexit. One source said: ‘If it passes, it’s an act of sabotage dressed up as reasonableness. MPs are still trying to put off the moment of decision.’
Sir Oliver insisted that he was a supporter of the Prime Minister’s plans and that it was only designed to act as an insurance policy to ensure that the UK did not leave the EU without a deal on October 31.
A GUIDE TO SUPER SATURDAY
What is happening on Super Saturday?
Mr Johnson will formally present his divorce accord to the Commons and ask MPs to vote for it.
The House of Commons usually sits from Monday to Thursday, and on the occasional Friday.
But today there will be an extraordinary sitting of Parliament – the first on a weekend since April 1982 – to discuss Boris Johnson’s new Brexit deal.
On Thursday, MPs approved a motion to hold the first weekend sitting of Parliament since the Falklands conflict.
The day will start with the PM setting out the terms of the agreement in a statement to the House which is due to begin shortly after 9.30am.
Following a lengthy debate MPs will then vote on the deal – and any amendments which are selected by Commons Speaker John Bercow – at approximately 2.30pm.
If Parliament does not vote for the agreement on Saturday, Mr Johnson faces an almighty clash over whether he will request a further Brexit delay from Brussels as he is compelled to under the Benn Act.
What amendments have been tabled and what would they do?
At the moment there are three amendments which have been officially put forward by MPs and which could be put to a vote.
One from an SNP MP would force the government to revoke Article 50 while another from the SNP would reject the PM’s deal and demand a Brexit delay until January 31 in order to make time for an election.
If either of those are selected they are very unlikely to secure the backing of a majority of MPs.
But the third amendment has a much better chance of passing and would represent a major headache for the government.
What happens if MPs vote in favour of the PM’s deal?
This would be the most straight forward option from a ‘what happens next’ perspective.
The final vote on the deal is expected to be very tight and nobody knows for certain which way it will go.
But if the deal were to be agreed by the Commons the government could then bring forward the laws needed to enact the UK’s departure from the EU.
The accord would then be put to the European Parliament to be ratified. Assuming MEPs did not block the deal the UK would then leave the EU with an accord on October 31.
But a Government source said: ‘The amendment is not about conditional approval – it is explicitly withholding approval.
‘The vast majority of the signatories have no intention of ever voting for a deal, and have never done so. They want an extension and a chance for a second referendum.’
The motivation behind the Letwin amendment had apparently been the prospect of Mr Johnson’s deal passing today, only for a No Deal Brexit to happen on October 31.
This would occur if the deal passed the Commons today, only to fall away in the subsequent days when MPs were actually required to pass the legislation that enacts it. Some had feared this could then unlock a route to a No Deal exit on October 31.
Under the terms of the amendment, the Commons withholds approval of the deal until the legislation has passed first. Supporters of the plan said they wanted an insurance policy against a No Deal Brexit.
Some of the 21 former Tory MPs who were kicked out of the party by Boris Johnson said they would back his Brexit deal – provided the amendment was voted through first.
Sir Oliver’s plan appears to suggest many MPs still don’t trust the hardcore Eurosceptics not to run down the clock to a No Deal exit.
Former chancellor Philip Hammond, ex-justice secretary David Gauke and former work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd all indicated they would back the amendment, along with leading Remainers Labour’s Hilary Benn, Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson and Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader Liz Saville Roberts.
Mr Hammond suggested he would vote against the Brexit deal unless the Government ruled out leaving without an agreement in December 2020.
In The Times, he wrote: ‘I haven’t come this far seeking to avoid No Deal in 2019 to be duped into voting for a heavily camouflaged No Deal at the end of 2020.’
Sir Nicholas Soames said he would vote in favour of the deal and that his other 20 colleagues who have had the whip removed would ‘by and large vote for it’.
Last night, No10 sources were bullish and insisted a vote could still take place today on the Prime Minister’s deal despite the amendment, but it is not yet clear what status this would have if the amendment is successful.
Sir Oliver said the purpose of his amendment was to ensure an extension to the negotiations if there were problems in passing the deal’s legislation in Parliament.
‘Basically we are supporting the deal and we are making sure there is an insurance policy to make sure there isn’t a mistake that leads to an unforeseen crashing out,’ he said.
‘We are creating a sustained insurance policy which means if something goes wrong with the legislation, then we will be sure that the country will be in the EU beyond 31 October until we have found some other way of getting out conveniently.’
However, Sir Oliver said the amendment would make it easier for Labour MPs to vote with the Government, adding: ‘They know they won’t find themselves in that crashing out position later in the month if something goes wrong in the legislation process, so I really do think it maximises the chance of the deal going through.’
Former Tory MP Sir Oliver Letwin (pictured in the Commons yesterday) proposed an amendment yesterday that would withhold Parliament’s final support for the agreement until all the necessary legislation for it is approved