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Explainer: Is Boris Johnson's Brexit deal already dead?

There was no meaningful vote on it today, so what happens next?

Updated Oct 21st 2019, 8:30 PM

brexit UK Prime MInister Boris Johnson in the House of Commons on Saturday. Source:

THERE WAS TO be no meaningful vote on Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal today.

That much we know after House of Commons Speaker John Bercow ruled today that parliament already had its say on the deal over the weekend in the form of the Letwin Amendment.

Bercow said today that circumstances had not changed enough to require another vote and therefore thwarted the efforts of Johnson’s government to have a vote on the deal.  

The Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) was published in full this evening. 

Capture Source:

So what happens now?

Well, what we’re going to see is many more Commons votes that will effectively determine how Brexit will play out in the coming weeks and possibly months.

The Letwin Amendment stated that a vote on the deal cannot pass until all associated Brexit-related legislation is also passed.

We now know that it is the UK government’s plan to have that legislation passed this week in the form of the WAB.

The WAB is effectively the bill which gives legal effect to the provisions contained in the treaty agreed between Johnson’s government and the EU. 

Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg MP confirmed this afternoon that the government would publish the WAB tonight and will aim to have debate completed by Thursday. 

The very optimistic hope for the government is that it can get the bill through the Commons by Friday and have it passed by the House of Lords over the weekend.

This could potentially allow Johnson achieve his stated goal of leaving the EU on 31 October. 

But the passage of the WAB through the House of Commons is likely to present major headaches for Johnson’s government and could even kill the deal altogether. 


MPs opposed to Johnson’s plans will seek to table number of amendments to the bill which could radically alter the course of Brexit. 

One such amendment being mooted is one which states that there should be a confirmatory referendum on any deal before Brexit takes place. Another amendment could potentially state that the UK should remain inside the EU’s customs union. 

That is radically different to the actual deal Johnson negotiated, so should that amendment be passed it could kill any chance of an agreed Brexit in the short-term.

The numbers in favour of either amendment are only likely to be clear once the votes take place, but it is believed that the customs union amendment has a better chance of being approved. 

But even aside from the problems WAB will cause the UK government, there are even questions about whether the timeline being proposed is legal. 

As The Sun’s Tom Newton Dunn points out, treaties laid before the Commons are required to have 21 days before they can be ratified. 

There is a clause within the WAB which exempts it from this requirement but the House of Lords is thought to be especially worried about circumventing this. 

And just to give some extra context on the superfast timeline the WAB is supposed to achieve, the Maastricht Treaty took 46 days to pass the House of Commons while WAB is being expected to do it in eight.

Speaking of the EU… 

If Brexit is indeed to happen by 31 October, the European Parliament would also need to ratify the deal and it’s unclear how soon MEPs will do that.

The European Parliament’s chief Brexit official Guy Verhofstadt said last week that MEPs will only start their work once the Commons has passed a fully-binding Brexit deal.

This evening, he said the Brexit Steering Group had met to discuss the latest developments in the UK:

Fitting the EU’s approval into the complicated timeline is just another hurdle that Johnson’s government must clear if it has any chance of making Brexit a reality by 31 October.

Should all this not happen and it become clear that the deal will not be passing parliament, it would leave the EU free to give its answer on the request for another extension. Even though Johnson says he doesn’t want one, of course. 

For the UK prime minister though, an extension could give him the window and opportunity he needs to actually hold that election he desires

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Rónán Duffy

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