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U.K. Speaker Bercow deals blow to PM Johnson's Brexit plan, disallows 2nd vote

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces a potentially perilous ratification of his Brexit divorce deal in Parliament after the Speaker refused to allow a vote on it Monday.

Government publishes Brexit agreement bill, hopes for passage before Oct. 31 deadline

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, seen in the U.K. House of Commons on Saturday, attempted to put forward another vote on a new Brexit deal on Monday. (U.K. Parliament/Jessica Taylor via Reuters)

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces a potentially perilous ratification of his Brexit deal in Parliament after the Speaker refused to allow a vote on it Monday.

With just 10 days left until the United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union on Oct. 31, the divorce is again in disarray as U.K. politicians argue over whether to leave with a deal, exit without a deal or hold another referendum.

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow said a vote should not be allowed on Monday as the same issue had been discussed on Saturday when opponents turned Johnson's big Brexit day into a humiliation.

"In summary, today's motion is in substance the same as Saturday's motion, and the House has decided the matter. Today's circumstances are in substance the same as Saturday's circumstances," Bercow told Parliament.

"My ruling is therefore that the motion will not be debated today as it would be repetitive and disorderly to do so," Bercow said, provoking the ire of pro-Brexit lawmakers, who said they had been refused a chance to vote on Johnson's deal.

Bercow said the government could still secure ratification for the Brexit deal by Oct. 31 if it had the numbers in Parliament.

But the Speaker's decision means that the government will have to try to push on with the legislation needed for ratification that opponents are plotting to wreck with amendments that would destroy Johnson's deal.

House Speaker John Bercow, shown Saturday in Parliament, disallowed another debate on Johnson's Brexit deal. (Jessica Taylor/U.K. Parliament via Reuters)

Brexit bill published

Instead of a straight yes or no vote on the deal, MPs will now debate the entire withdrawal legislation and hold their first vote on it Tuesday.

Johnson hopes to get Parliament's backing before the week is out for his Brexit blueprint by passing legislation known as the Withdrawal Agreement Bill. It would turn the withdrawal agreement into U.K. law and give the government permission to ratify it. 

Johnson's 115-page bill, accompanied by more than 120 pages of explanatory notes, was published Monday night ahead of the debate.

Johnson was ambushed by opponents in Parliament on Saturday who demanded a change to the sequencing of the ratification of the deal, exposing the prime minister to a law which demanded he request a delay until Jan. 31.

In a twist that illustrates the extent to which Brexit has strained the norms of statecraft, Johnson sent the note to the EU unsigned — and added another signed letter arguing against what he cast as a deeply corrosive delay.

The bloc said the fact that Johnson had not signed the letter was irrelevant.

"A further extension would damage the interests of the U.K. and our EU partners, and the relationship between us," Johnson said in his own letter, signed "Boris Johnson."

The EU, which has grappled with the tortuous Brexit crisis since Britons voted 52 per cent to 48 per cent to leave in a 2016 referendum, was clearly bewildered by the contradictory signals from London.

With Brexit up in the air, the bloc's ambassadors decided Sunday to play for time rather than rush to decide on Johnson's request.

From the EU's point of view, extension options range from just an additional month until the end of November to half a year or longer.

"We're looking for more clarity towards the end of the week, hoping that by that time we will also see how things develop in London," one senior EU diplomat said.

It was unlikely that the EU's 27 remaining member states would refuse the U.K.'s request to delay once again its departure, given the impact on all parties of a no-deal Brexit.

In London, Johnson's ministers said they were confident they had the numbers to push a deal through Parliament where opponents were plotting to derail the deal he had assured the EU that he could ratify.

The opposition Labour Party was planning changes to the deal that would make it unacceptable to swathes of Johnson's own party including a proposals for another referendum.

With files from The Associated Press

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