Talk about a game of two halves.
Yesterday evening, MPs voted in favour of Johnson’s Brexit deal going through to a third reading in the house. It won by a majority of 30, a strong result.
This was the first time that a Brexit deal of any kind had won a majority in Parliament.
Then, just fifteen minutes later, Parliament voted against the government’s proposed timetable to pass the Bill. It lost by 14 votes.
I know. It makes as much sense as War and Peace written in Hungarian.
Now look, this is confusing for anyone who isn’t a total politics nerd like me. Why on earth would Parliament agree to a deal, then delay it? Why can’t this nightmare be over?!
Let me explain.
FURIOUS MASS DEBATING RETURNS
Yesterday’s Brexit slog started with a five and a half-hour debate about the two votes. There were some notable moments, such as the DUP publicly and furiously turning against Johnson for selling them so far down the river they were basically back in the sea.
Combine this with the newly-enacted laws in favour of same-sex marriage and abortion rights and it’s been a real humdinger of a couple of days for the Duppers.
The DUP, remember, believe that any kind of customs checks between NI and GB (England, Scotland, Wales) is totally unacceptable, because it threatens the sanctity of the United Kingdom – hence Democratic Unionist Party.
Johnson’s deal imposes those checks with impunity. It’s gone down like a turducken at VegFest.
Not only this, there were MPs openly rebelling against Corbyn to his face (in a “constructive” manner), former Tory MPs turning up the heat, and yet another farcical statement from the Prime Minister that showed no understanding of the realities he faced.
But, we’re not here to deal with misunderstandings. I watch BBC Parliament because I’m a huge nerd and something interesting happens every few months, but I know the vast majority of it is hysterically boring to most of you.
So let’s get to the crunch of it.
VOTE NO. 1 : WABSOLUTELY FWABULOUS
The first vote was on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, or WAB for short. As I explained in my flowchart for yesterday’s blog, this isn’t the same as the meaningful vote that was amended and abandoned on Saturday and rejected on Monday.
This is the full, legally-binding text for Boris Johnson’s deal. And, for many MPs, there are some major issues with it.
Saturday’s meaningful vote, had it passed, would have nullified the Benn Act and given a form of Parliament’s consent towards the deal being passed. However, the WAB would still have had to have been voted on in Parliament in order to be approved.
Yesterday’s vote, however, was not Parliament giving consent to the Withdrawal Agreement Bill.
More complications. I know, I’m sorry. Let’s break it down.
The vote wasn’t Parliament’s consent. This is because of the word “Bill“.
A Bill, when passed through Parliament, becomes law. This is how all of our laws are made. A Bill isn’t passed through the House of Commons in just one go, however. Instead, it is given three “Readings.”
…Do I hear a BAM?
Looks pretty intense, right? So the vote yesterday was for Royal Assent, or something… right?
Yep. That’s it. Just the seven more steps to go before it’s made law.
Which is the whole point. There is still an absolute mountain for the deal to climb before it can be ratified by Parliament. It needs debating, a third reading, going to the House of Lords to be scrutinised, back to the House of Commons to be scrutinised again, and then sent to the Queen.
And, while it is undoubtedly impressive that Johnson got a majority vote on his deal at all…
VOTE NO. 2 : WABSOLUTE GARBAGE
The second vote told Johnson that his original plan of three days was nowhere near enough time to give the Bill proper scrutiny.
The government wanted to push through all of the next seven phases in the space of three days, including the day spent debating the timetabling.
Three days, where a normal Bill would take weeks. It was nothing short of insanity.
So why did Johnson want to rush it through so quickly?!
- There are serious holes in the WAB. In the hours of debate before the votes yesterday, many of these were picked up.
- One major hole is that, currently, if we were to “leave” on October 31st, we would have until December 2020 to work out the new trading agreements with the EU (known as the transition period). If we failed in this, under Johnson’s deal, we would leave with no deal.
- And Johnson didn’t want anyone to realise that.
Unfortunately, they did. As such, MPs voted for Brexit to be delayed, again, despite a deal appearing to be closer than ever before.
SO NOW WHAT
Well… It’s quite hard to predict.
Johnson said that the Bill was now on hold until we knew what extension the EU would grant us. Johnson was forced to ask for an extension last weekend after the Letwin Amendment enabled the Benn Act.
Read about it here if you’re confused (and if you can be bothered – by this stage I don’t blame you).
So, the ball is now in the EU’s court.
They could refuse an extension, and we would have to smash out this deal before next Thursday or leave with no deal.
They could grant us an extension until December 2020.
They could grant a short-term extension of a few weeks in order for Parliament to amend the WAB.
Or they could grant us an extension until March-April 2020, and politely insist we use the time for a General Election, which Labour has said it would do.
We don’t really know for sure, but make no mistake – Brexit is all but delayed, again.
And the second that that delay is confirmed, all hell breaks loose.
Get your voting hats on, people – it’s (probably) going to happen.