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Extension amendment threatens to scupper Johnson's hopes of 31 October exit

The Letwin amendment could prove a major barrier to Boris Johnson’s plan to leave the EU on 31 October.

The Letwin amendment will be opposed by Boris Johnson.
The Letwin amendment will be opposed by Boris Johnson.
Image: Zhang Cheng/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

BORIS JOHNSON’S bid to pass his Brexit deal through the House of Commons has been made more difficult by a plan by cross-party MPs that would withhold approval of the deal unless and until implementing legislation has passed.

The amendment, put forward by Sir Oliver Letwin, the former Tory Cabinet minister who now sits as an independent would mean that Johnson cannot avoid a Brexit extension even if his deal is passed today. 

It now remains to be seen if the amendment will be selected by Speaker John Bercow and approved by MPs. 

The Benn Act, passed through parliament last month, forces the government to request an extension if MPs have not approved a deal before 19 October. 

The amendment, if successful, would mean that Johnson cannot fulfil his pledge to leave the EU by 31 October. 

“In short, my aim is to ensure that Boris’s deal succeeds, but that we have an insurance policy which prevents the UK from crashing out on 31 October by mistake if something goes wrong during the passage of the implementing legislation,” Letwin said. 

Letwin fears that even if MPs do vote today to approve the deal, legislation implementing the agreement may be voted down before 31 October – leading to a no-deal Brexit by default. 

The plan has prompted fury among many Tory MPs. 

Labour has said it will back the amendment, which suggests that it is likely to pass through the House of Commons. 

The DUP, whose 10 MPs will vote against Johnson’s deal, remained undecided about whether to back the Letwin amendment. 

Speaking on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme this morning, the party’s Nigel Dodds said the amendment was “very interesting”.

“We’re going to look very closely and examine it,” he said. “What it may do is ensure there is proper examination of all the details and allow a proper exploration of some of the statements being made about this Brexit deal.”

Under the EU Withdrawal Act, MPs must give approve to any Brexit deal brought back from Brussels. They have already voted three times against the deal brought back by former prime minister Theresa May. 

If Letwin’s amendment doesn’t succeed and Boris Johnson’s deal does pass the House of Commons, the government will then face a nearly unprecedented dash to pass the deal into UK law before the end of the month. 

Responding to Letwin’s amendment, a Downing St spokesperson said: “The public will be appalled if MPs just vote for delay again. MPs should vote for the new deal so we can get Brexit done on October 31 and the country can move on.”

Other amendments which have been proposed by Johnson’s opponents include one by the SNP seeking to reject the deal and demand an immediate extension to the October 31 deadline as well as a general election.

And Labour MP Peter Kyle has tabled an amendment which, if selected and passed, calls for a confirmatory referendum on the future relationship with the EU should Mr Johnson’s deal fail.

With reporting from Press Association

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