Tuesday 17 September 2019

Boris Johnson's pre-Brexit election: 'There must now be an election on Tuesday October 15'

  • Legislation designed to prevent no-deal Brexit on October 31 has cleared its first Commons hurdle
  • Scottish court finds Boris Johnson's prorogation plans is lawful
  • Leo Varadkar's meeting with Boris Johnson next week now in doubt
  • Simon Coveney tells private meeting that the UK has put forward no proposals "at all" to replace the backstop since Boris Johnson took over as prime minister
  • MPs expected later to block Boris Johnson's suggestion of an early election
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister's Questions session in the House of Commons in London, Britain September 4, 2019. ©UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via REUTERS
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister's Questions session in the House of Commons in London, Britain September 4, 2019. ©UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via REUTERS
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. PA Photo. Picture date: Wednesday September 4, 2019. See PA story POLITICS PMQs Johnson. Photo credit should read: House of Commons/PA Wire
Vote: Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to hold an election. Photo: ©UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via REUTERS
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said “there must now be an election on Tuesday October 15” after legislation designed to prevent a no-deal Brexit cleared the Commons.

Earlier, legislation designed to prevent a no-deal Brexit on October 31 has cleared its first Commons hurdle after MPs gave it a second reading by 329 votes to 300, majority 29.

Handout photo issued by UK Parliament of Prime Minister Boris Johnson during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA Wire
Handout photo issued by UK Parliament of Prime Minister Boris Johnson during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA Wire

Introducing the EU Withdrawal (No. 6) Bill, which seeks to stop the UK leaving the EU without a deal in October earlier, Labour MP Hilary Benn said: "I think wherever we stand on this issue, we know there is very little time left and, following the decision on prorogation, there is even less time than would have been available previously."

Mr Benn noted strong feelings on both sides in the Chamber, and appealed to MPs to "treat each other with respect" during the debate.

He added: "The purpose of the Bill is very simple. It is to ensure that the United Kingdom does not leave the European Union on October 31 without an agreement.

He said the Bill has "wide cross-party support", including from former senior Cabinet members.

Mr Benn added: "You could describe it as a somewhat unlikely alliance, but what unites us is a conviction that there is no mandate for no-deal, and that the consequences for the economy and for our country would be highly damaging."

Mr Benn said: "The Prime Minister's made it absolutely clear that he is prepared to leave on 31st October without a deal, and those of us who I hope will support the Bill today do not wish that to happen."

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister's Questions session in the House of Commons in London, Britain September 4, 2019. ©UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via REUTERS
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister's Questions session in the House of Commons in London, Britain September 4, 2019. ©UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via REUTERS

He added: "We cannot continue to delay taking a decision... the Bill is deliberately open as to the purpose of the extension so it provides a framework for reporting and debate and it is supported as I've just pointed out by (MPs) who have already voted for a deal and would vote for one again.

READ MORE: Brext A to Z - Key terms related to Britain's exit from the EU explained

"And I would just say it's very important that we focus on the principal purpose which is to prevent a no-deal Brexit and to keep the coalition that shares that view together."

He went on: "We must in my opinion secure that extension to Article 50 otherwise there is a risk that the election would result in us leaving without a deal, which as it may turn out at 7 o'clock tonight is not what the House of Commons wants and we should respect that."

Tory MP Sir Bill Cash said the "incredibly rushed procedure is a travesty in itself", saying it had been difficult to assess the Bill and draft amendments in such a short amount of time.

In a point of order, Sir Bill said there should have been more time for MPs to consider the legislation.

Contempt: Jacob Rees-Mogg sparked fury in the House of Commons by reclining on a bench during the debate
Contempt: Jacob Rees-Mogg sparked fury in the House of Commons by reclining on a bench during the debate

He also asked whether the Bill would require the Queen's consent.

Commons Speaker John Bercow said MPs had had enough time to consider the Bill, and that its "basic subject matter" is well known to them. He said the speed with which the Bill was being processed is "unusual", but not "disorderly".

Tánaiste Simon Coveney. Photo: REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/File Photo
Tánaiste Simon Coveney. Photo: REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/File Photo

He also said he has consulted the Clerk of Legislation and other senior clerks and that he is satisfied there is no requirement for the Queen's consent for the Bill.

Earlier, Tánaiste Simon Coveney told a private meeting that the UK has put forward no proposals "at all" to replace the backstop since Boris Johnson took over as prime minister.

Speaking to a ‘business breakfast’ in Wicklow, where there were no media present, Mr Coveney gave his most frank assessment of the Brexit scenario so far.

Sources inside the room told Independent.ie that the Tánaiste was blunt in his commentary.

An audience of around 200 people were told: "Not only do we not have a credible and legally sound proposal to the backstop coming from Boris Johnson, the EU has seen no proposal at all in fact."

Mr Johnson has claimed progress towards alternative arrangements was being made and the EU was ceding ground.

Mr Coveney said the Irish position has remained "clear" and "consistent", adding that it will not be changing despite the dramatics in Westminster.

"It’s based on fact and reality, not personalities," he said.

"The UK could still crash out in 57 days. It’s a very, very real possibility and so we need businesses to keep up preparations," the Tánaiste added.

Last night, Ireland was thrown a Brexit lifeline after British MPs voted to seize control of the House of Commons from Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The spectre of a no-deal Brexit has receded for now following a historic shift of power.

However, what happens next remains unclear - and planned talks between Mr Johnson and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Dublin next Monday are now in serious doubt. After suffering the humiliating defeat last night, Mr Johnson immediately warned of a snap election for Britain.

Meanwhile opposition parties - backed by 21 Conservative MPs - will now move legislation aimed at delaying Brexit until the end of January so that a deal can be agreed with the EU.

READ MORE: Brext A to Z - Key terms related to Britain's exit from the EU explained

The remarkable turn of events is being closely watched here, where ministers were quietly pleased with the result.

But Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe cautioned there is no guarantee the EU will grant another Brexit extension beyond October 31.

It came on a day when US Vice President Mike Pence made it clear the Trump administration backs Mr Johnson in the stand-off with the EU.

Government sources said a 328 votes to 301 defeat for the UK government showed "once again" that a majority of British politicians don't support a disorderly Brexit.

But they remain nervous about the unpredictable nature of politics in the UK.

Mr Donohoe said the British government will need to present "a very significant political rationale" for pushing the deadline beyond October 31.

"The European Council and the European Commission have said that were another extension to be looked for, there would have to be a very significant political rationale for it and it is yet to be seen what that rationale would be," he said.

During a heated debate in London, Mr Johnson had argued he would not be "running up the white flag".

But even the threat of being dropped from the party's election ticket failed to stop MPs deserting their leader.

Afterwards, the prime minister said: "I don't want an election but if MPs vote to stop negotiations and to compel another pointless delay to Brexit potentially for years then that will be the only way to resolve this."

Mr Johnson now wants to hold a general election on October 14 but even that might now be blocked by parliament. UK law means two-thirds of MPs must support the collapsing of parliament outside of the normal election schedule.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn indicated he wants legislation blocking a no-deal Brexit passed before he will open the door on an election.

He said the prime minister has "no mandate, no morals and, as of today, no majority".

At one point during extraordinary series of exchanges in the House of Commons, the impact of Charles Stewart Parnell was evoked.

Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg compared those trying to wrest control from the Government to the Home Rule leader.

"The approach taken today is the most unconstitutional use of this house since the days of Charles Stewart Parnell when he tried to bung up parliament," he said.

Even ahead of the debate, Mr Johnson lost his working majority as Phillip Lee, a former justice minister, crossed the floor and sat with the Lib Dems.

Much of the debate centred on the backstop, which the EU is continuing to strongly defend as the only way to maintain an open border on this island.

Mr Johnson insists it must be scrapped, and tried to reassure MPs that process was being made in that direction. The EU says his government has failed to put forward any concrete alternatives.

But Ken Clarke, the former Conservative finance minister, said the vast majority of the English public have "no idea" what the Irish backstop is.

The Tory grandee and longest serving MP said he did not want to listen to "conspiracy theories".

"I don't think any of the English public - sadly - take any interest in Irish political affairs," Mr Clarke told parliament.

"Nine out of 10 have no idea what the Irish backstop is."

Mr Clarke will now lose the Tory whip, as will another former chancellor, Philip Hammond, who warned party chiefs they face the "fight of a lifetime" if they try to prevent him from running in the next election.

Meanwhile, this morning, a Scottish court ruled that Mr Johnson's prorogation of UK parliament is lawful.

Online Editors

Also in Business