Brexit on a knife edge as Johnson stakes all on ‘Super Saturday’ vote
LONDON, Oct 18: Britain's exit from the European Union hung on a knife-edge on Friday as Prime Minister Boris Johnson scrambled to persuade doubters to rally behind his last-minute European Union divorce deal in an extraordinary vote in parliament.
The numbers are too close to call: Johnson must garner 318 votes in the 650-seat parliament to get a deal approved. Yet his Northern Irish allies are opposed to a deal and the three main opposition parties have pledged to vote it down.
If he wins the vote, Johnson will go down in history as the leader who delivered Brexit - for good or bad. If he fails, Johnson will face the humiliation of Brexit unraveling after repeatedly promising that he would get it done.
In an extraordinary Saturday sitting, the first since 1982, parliament will vote on approving Johnson's deal. Britain is due to leave the EU on Oct. 31. But Johnson, whose Conservatives have no majority in the 650-seat House of Commons, will face a deeply divided parliament where his opponents are trying to force both a delay to Brexit and another referendum.
Other options include collapsing his government so that others can take control of Brexit negotiations. Parliament will sit from 0830 GMT on Saturday Oct. 19 - the first time since April 3, 1982 when it discussed the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands.
Johnson will make a statement to lawmakers, followed by a 90-minute debate and then voting. The vote would be intended to meet one part of the criteria for ratifying the exit deal. Legislation would then need to be passed by Oct. 31 in order to complete the ratification. If the Commons rejects the deal, Johnson will be forced by law to ask the EU to delay Brexit, for what would be the third time. He has said he would rather "die in a ditch" than do so. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker sought to focus MPs' minds, saying Brussels can see no need to prolong the tortuous three-year Brexit process -- although the decision to delay, if requested by London, would be for EU leaders.
Johnson took office in July vowing to keep to the October 31 Brexit deadline, deal or no deal. He pledged to renegotiate the most contentious elements of a divorce text agreed by his predecessor Theresa May with Brussels last year, which was rejected by MPs three times.
The compromise deal that was finally struck on Thursday has a new arrangement for keeping open the border between British Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland. Johnson has assured his European counterparts that he can get the deal through the Commons, where he requires the support of 319 other MPs to guarantee backing.
However, the DUP has said it cannot support the plans, as efforts to avoid checks on the Irish land border would lead to new trade barriers between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain. The main opposition Labour, Scottish National and Liberal Democrat parties are also against.
Johnson will meet with and call MPs to try to win support for his deal throughout Friday, a Downing Street official said. With the numbers extremely close, he needs to win over Labour MPs representing Brexit-supporting constituencies.
The Labour leadership objects to the new deal because it paves the way for looser ties between Britain and the EU than were previously envisaged. The party wants a second referendum on any deal. Britain's eurosceptic newspapers backed Johnson's deal, which comes more than three years after Britons voted narrowly to leave the EU in a referendum that has left the country bitterly divided.
Meanwhile the Financial Times called for a second referendum, while the Labour-supporting Daily Mirror said the best thing about Johnson's deal was that it was better than no deal.
The Times urged lawmakers to back the agreement, while The Daily Telegraph said parliament "must not scupper this chance". -AFP