Labour will whip MPs to back second referendum amendment
Labour is ready to whip its MPs to back a second Brexit referendum in crucial votes over the coming days, in what backers said was a “significant” step forward in the push for a Final Say public vote.
As well as attaching a referendum amendment to Boris Johnson’s deal this week, the party is expected to focus on amendments to boost ties with the EU’s customs union and to prevent a no-deal cliff-edge at the end of the proposed transition period in December 2020.
Bercow could block attempt to bring back ‘meaningful vote’
Boris Johnson is set for a showdown with Speaker John Bercow as the PM pushes for a knife-edge Commons vote on his Brexit deal.
Bercow, who Tory Brexiteers have accused of being pro-Remain, will rule on whether the Government can bring a so-called “meaningful vote” on its plans.
If the Speaker blocks the move, focus will switch to the government bringing its Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) before MPs on Monday, with a vote on its second reading on Tuesday.
Ministers insist they “have the numbers” to push the agreement through, but the parliamentary situation appears to be on a tightrope.
Labour has made clear it will try to hijack the legislation by putting down amendments for a second Brexit referendum – and for a customs union with the EU.
The DUP have expressed interested in a customs union, but not yet support for a Final Say public vote.
Shadow solicitor general Nick Thomas-Symonds said that Labour MPs will call for a confirmatory referendum, adding that he thought parliament may vote in favour of Britain staying in a customs union with the bloc.
“A customs union is going to be one of the amendments that comes through and that is something that is going to have a very good chance of getting a majority,” Thomas-Symonds told BBC Radio 4.
ERG could pull support for deal if ‘wrecked’ by Labour amendments
The impact of Labour’s planned amendment to the withdrawal bill on a customs union with the EU – if backed by a majority in the Commons – could be huge.
The European Research Group chairman Steve Baker urged colleagues to reconsider backing the Withdrawal Agreement if it is “wrecked by opponents”.
The Tory MP and self-styled “Brexit hardman” did not explicitly rule out backing the deal if it is amended to include a customs union arrangement but said he would reconsider his support.
“The advice I gave to my Eurosceptic colleagues is we should, number one, back the deal,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“Number two, vote for the legislation all the way through unless, it has to be said, it was wrecked by opponents, in which case we would have to take a view.”
Pressed on whether including a customs union would wreck the Bill, he said: “Well, we’ve only committed to taking a view if it was wrecked.
“And, thirdly, what we said to colleagues was that at this point we should just vote with the government because the political situation is so bad because the effect on business is continued uncertainty.”
An influential SNP MP has said she supports extending Brexit negotiations until the end of next year if needed for a second referendum.
Joanna Cherry QC – who is leading the legal action to get Boris Johnson to comply with the Benn Act – said she would back a lengthy delay in order to stop the damage posed by the current Brexit deal.
Appearing on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland, she was asked if she would back an extension until the end of next year to allow time for a second referendum if approved by Parliament.
“Yes, I would,” she replied. “Because the current deal that’s been negotiated by Boris Johnson is immensely damaging to the British economy and particularly for Scotland.”
She pointed out that her party backed a second Brexit referendum at its autumn conference last year.
Cherry added: “We need to get a government in place to deliver the referendum and I don’t see Boris Johnson’s government doing that. The SNP has been very clear that Boris Johnson should be removed from office once an extension is obtained.”
Scotland’s highest court to decide on ‘childish’ three letters sent to EU
Boris Johnson will have his hands full in the Commons, but a legal challenge will examine his handiwork on three different letters sent to the EU.
First, there was an unsigned photocopy of the request for a three-month delay the PM was obliged to send under the Benn Act, followed by a letter explaining why the British government did not actually want an extension – that he did sign. There was also an explanatory letter from Sir Tim Barrow, the UK’s ambassador to the EU.
The Court of Session in Edinburgh will resume its hearing about the Benn Act, and examine whether the missives – one signed, one unsigned, one signed by someone else – constitute contempt of court.
The SNP MP and campaigner Joanna Cherry said it was “arguable” that the PM’s letters “seeks to frustrate what the Benn Act sets out to do.” She accused Johnson of playing a “childish trick” with the different letters.
But Lord Pannick – he of the Supreme Court case against the government’s unlawful prorogation – writes in The Times today that Johnson is “just about” on “the right side of the law”.
Pannick QC repeated the view on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning. “I think the Prime Minister is on the right side of the law on this occasion,” he said.
“The Benn Act required him to send a letter to the president of the European Council seeking an extension and that's what he’s done. The Act doesn’t require that he’s signed the letter. My view is that he’s on the right side of the law – just about – on this occasion.”
Tory rebel Justine Greening backs second referendum
Exiled former Tory minister Justine Greening said it is “vital” that an amendment is brought to Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal to get a second referendum.
She said she “wouldn’t be surprised” if Speaker John Bercow did not allow the PM’s deal to come back before parliament.
“This sense that somehow we will rubber-stamp it through Parliament when we only actually had the shape of the deal on Thursday last week I think is, frankly, not only unrealistic, it’s highly risky because rushed law is bad law and if ever there was a need to get law right it's the next Brexit Bill.”
Asked if she would seek an amendment for a second referendum, she replied: “I think, in the end, that’s vital. It feels like we are a very long way from the lofty ideals that were debated by Vote Leave in 2016.”
She told Sky News: “I would like people themselves to have the final say on whether they actually want that constitutional change.”
Hilary Benn says Brexit deal must ‘go back to the people’
Labour MP Hilary Benn said will likely be an amendment “seeking to put this whole deal back to the British people”, and another saying “we should remain in the customs union”.
Benn told BBC Breakfast he would not vote for Boris Johnson’s deal unless he “goes back to the people for them to decide”.
Asked if he thinks Jeremy Corbyn could win a general election, Benn said: “Let’s take the leadership that Jeremy has shown over the last few months; we are now the only party promising, the only major party promising, to take the question of the final deal back to the British people in a referendum.”
He said the “vast majority” of Labour MPs would be campaigning for Remain in that referendum.
Lord Pannick rejects claims he told Oliver Letwin what to do
Lord Pannick also accused Downing Street of giving out “complete and absolute nonsense” information that he instructed Oliver Letwin during talks with the prime minister.
But the influential peer – who led the case against the government in the Supreme Court prorogation case – did admit to helping Letwin drafted his amendment at the end of last week.
Asked if he gave advice to Letwin while the Tory MPs was in talks at No 10, Lord Pannick told Today: “The answer is no. My role was to assist him with the drafting of his amendment earlier last week.
“The Number 10 briefings are completely untrue. What they briefed in order to demean Oliver was that, while he was at Number 10 talking to the prime minister on Friday, he was on the phone to me, I was giving him instructions. This is all nonsense. Complete and absolute nonsense.
“I didn’t have any contact with him on Friday. And the idea that he’s taking instructions from me, that I’m some sort of political mastermind, is complete and absolute nonsense.”
One government source told The Sunday Times: “Pannick is the organ grinder. Letwin’s just the useful idiot.”
Letwin hasn’t killed off no-deal Brexit completely
Our columnist Matthew Norman has offered a reminder just why the Letwin amendment was so important. But he thinks the extension the PM has now technically asked the EU for hasn’t killed off the possibility of a no-deal Brexit.
Senior ministers have reportedly given members of the European Research Group (ERG) nods and winks that a failure to secure a free-trade deal by the end of the transition period in December 2020 would still give them the no-deal exit they appear to crave.
Indeed, Tory MP John Baron “let the cag out of the bag” by telling the BBC on Friday that the end of next year was a deadline they were eager to exploit.
Nick Boles threatens to pull support for Brexit deal
The former Tory MP Nick Boles, who now sits as an independent, has threatened to pull support for if No 10 “persists with its McCarthyite tactics of smearing my friends through off the record briefings”.
DUP ‘can’t support’ Labour amendment on customs union with EU, says MP
One of the 10 Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MPs has said the party would not support a possible Labour amendment to Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal that would put the UK in a customs union with the EU.
“We are clear where we stand on the customs union as something that we cannot support and will not support, and I believe that that will be the stance we will have later on when we see the wording,” DUP MP Jim Shannon told Sky News.
Labour has made clear it will try to hijack the Johnson legislation by putting down amendments for a second Brexit referendum – and for a customs union with the EU. Shadow Brexit secretary has said the “door is open” to the DUP on the amendments.
The government will publish its Withdrawal Agreement Bill later today, according to the department for exiting the European Union.
The Brexit secretary Steve Barclay states: “MPs and peers will today have in front of them a bill that will get Brexit done by October 31, protect jobs and the integrity of the UK, and enable us to move onto the people’s priorities like health, education and crime.”
Hannah White, of the influential think tank the Institute for Government, thinks it’s unlikely Speaker John Bercow will allow a “meaningful vote” on the deal – an attempt to win a symbolic support of parliament – before the (WAB) is introduced.
As White suggests, being denied a “meaningful vote” will itself be a symbolic act that No 10 will pounce upon.
Potential Labour rebel will support party’s customs union amendment
Labour said there was a “very good chance” of an amendment to have the UK partner the EU in a customs union being passed by the Commons later this week.
Gloria de Piero, a Labour MP who was believed to be considering voting for Boris Johnson’s deal, tweeted: “A customs union amendment is what I’ll be working for. It is the option that was three votes short of passing in Parliament. I am convinced we can get majority support for it.”
If passed, a customs union amendment would cause major problems for Mr Johnson because it would likely force him to either agree to the demand or pull the entire bill.
Here’s more on Labour’s optimism about its amendment.
Government could pull meaningful vote today if ‘Letwin 2’ is on the cards
Downing Street has said it will pull today’s meaningful vote on Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal if another delaying amendment is selected for debate, writes our political editor Andrew Woodcock.
Speaker John Bercow is expected to rule this afternoon that the vote will not be allowed to take place, after saying on Saturday that it would be “curious and irregular” for a motion to be debated which was purely designed to invalidate MPs’ decision two days before.
But if he does allow it to go ahead, the group of former Tory MPs sitting as independents have made clear they will table a “Letwin 2” amendment once again withholding approval of the deal until all of the necessary legislation to ratify it has passed.
“The meaningful vote will go ahead if the speaker allows it and if no amendments are selected which would render the vote pointless. There is no point having a meaningless vote. The government would pull the motion.”
Bercow is expected to make his ruling on whether the vote can go ahead early in the afternoon. Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg will later make a business statement, effectively clearing the parliamentary decks for debate of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill over the following nine or 10 days.
The bill - along with an impact assessment - is due to be published on its introduction to the Commons at first reading this evening. MPs will then vote on the WAB at second reading on Tuesday, but this will not amount to an endorsement of the deal, merely the agreement of the Commons for the proposals to be scrutinised and debated.
Once second reading has been completed, Rees-Mogg is expected to put forward a programme motion setting out an accelerated timetable to get the bill onto the statute book in time for the 31 October Brexit deadline.
It is expected that this would see WAB complete all its Commons stages by the end of this week, with the Lords sitting over the weekend and into the start of next week to consider it, and the bill completing its passage and receiving royal assent before the deadline of 11pm on Thursday next week.
250,000 people sign letter demanding a Final Say vote
A quarter of a million people have signed a letter within the past 48 hours demanding a Final Say referendum on Brexit.
The letter, organised by People’s Vote campaign and backed by The Independent, calls on politicians to do all they can to allow the British public to have a say whether any final deal put forward by Boris Johnson is indeed the “will of the people”.
Alistair Campbell, one of the leading campaigners for a second referendum, spent some time asking people on Saturday’s march why they wanted to make their voice heard.
Barclay said PM’s extension request ‘complies with the law’
Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay is appearing at the Lords EU select committee where the subject is “scrutiny of Brexit negotiations”.
Barclay said the next step will be the Speaker’s decision on whether or not a vote can take place on Monday. This is expected after 3.30pm, he said.
Asked about the rationale behind Johnson sending three letters to the EU on Saturday night, Barclay said: “The first point to make is, as the prime minister said, as I repeatedly said, the Government will comply with the law.
“The prime minister complies with the law, and the letter that was sent on Saturday complies with section one of the Benn Act.”
Asked about what the plan is if Bercow does not allow a vote on Monday, Barclay said that bridge will be crossed “in due course”.
He added: “We hope that the speaker will enable the house to have a meaningful vote. It is, after all, this house, the House of Commons, that passed the legislation to enable, or to require, a section 13 vote.
“And therefore having put in place the legislation to require a meaningful vote it does seem odd if you then, having secured a deal, don’t have a meaningful vote on the prime minister’s deal.”
“And I think that the hope and the expectation in government is having secured a deal that the house will give its decision on a section 13 meaningful vote but obviously that is a matter for the Speaker to determine.”