Additional reporting by Gavin Cordon and Harriet Line
British prime minister Boris Johnson is to seek to fast-track legislation to ratify his Brexit deal through the Commons in just three days as he attempts to avoid another delay to Britain’s departure from the EU.
It comes as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and European Council president Donald Tusk are due to speak by telephone either today or tomorrow to discuss if Britain should be given another Brexit deadline delay.
Although the phone call was expected to take place yesterday evening, Government and EU sources indicated it may not occur until later in the week due to ongoing developments at the House of Commons. Mr Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney are likely to provide ministers with a Brexit update at the cabinet meeting this morning.
Leader of the house Jacob Rees-Mogg told MPs debate on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill would start today with ministers hoping to get it through all its Commons stages by Thursday. If they are successful, it could pave the way for the House of Lords to sit over the weekend in time for the bill to receive its royal assent at the start of next week.
However, they are likely to face opposition attempts to amend the legislation including the “programme motion” setting out the Commons timetable for the bill. Mr Rees-Mogg warned MPs that if the programme motion was defeated they would not be able to get it through parliament in time for the UK to leave with a deal on October 31. He said:
Earlier, Commons speaker John Bercow rejected a bid by ministers for a fresh meaningful vote on Mr Johnson’s agreement struck last week with Brussels.
Mr Bercow ruled the special Commons sitting on Saturday had voted to delay approval until the implementing legislation had been passed and that any further vote would be “repetitive and disorderly” under house rules. He told the Commons: “Today’s motion is in substance the same as Saturday’s motion, and the house has decided the matter.”
Downing Street said ministers were “disappointed” with the speaker’s ruling, and would now go ahead with the introduction of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill.
Under the timetable set out by Mr Rees-Mogg, the bill will get its second reading on the principle of the legislation today, followed by a vote on the programme motion. If it is passed, they will then move to the committee stage when MPs can put down amendments.
Despite Saturday’s Commons defeat, ministers believe they do have the numbers to get the bill through with the support of rebel Labour MPs in leave-supporting areas and former Tories now sitting as independents.
But, with no Commons majority and Mr Johnson’s erstwhile allies in the DUP resolutely opposed, he still faces a major battle to achieve his pledge to lead the country out of the EU by the October 31 deadline.
Labour has denied it is trying to scupper the agreement, by planning to amend it to secure a customs union and a second referendum as the legislation passes through Parliament. Number 10 is opposed to a customs union and second referendum, and warned that if the legislation in the Commons “steps too far away” from what has been agreed with the EU, then it would “bring into question ratification”.
It came as Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator, said the Brexit steering group had recommended they should “await the full ratification on the UK side” before the European Parliament votes on the deal.