Brexit Brief: Deal In Limbo After Government Loses Timetable Vote

Posted on 23rd October 2019

On Tuesday night, MPs voted by a majority of 30 to advance legislation to implement the new EU-UK withdrawal agreement.  However, the government has lost vote on the timetable – meaning the 31 October deadline is now all but impossible to meet. In response, the government accused MPs of making no deal more likely (despite an extension being very likely) and pulled the legislation altogether (despite MPs supporting it in principle).

The 31 October deadline is very likely to slip. The EU-27 are likely to grant an extension in the coming days, which the UK government will very likely be legally forced to accept. Consequently, a no-deal exit on Halloween is now even less likely, despite the British prime minister’s protestations to the contrary. However, ultimately the only thing to prevent a no-deal exit is agreeing a deal, so while the cliff-edge will get further away, it remains. Planning for all outcomes remains necessary.

Arguments rage within government on whether to try again to pass the implementing legislation, albeit at a slower pace than intended, or to press for an election first.

If the government sets aside an election now, one could still be called imminently, as passage of the bill is likely to be fraught. We will see further attempts to constrain the government ahead of the next phase of the negotiation. Environmental and labour-focused amendments may be particularly dangerous for the government, as it may peel off otherwise supportive Labour MPs on whom Boris Johnson is relying for a majority.

Separately, in order to pass the second reading stage tonight, the government has conceded a July 2020 vote on extending the transition period beyond 31 December 2020. If it survives parliament, this could provide parliament with an opportunity to prevent a no-deal exit at the end of 2020. This sets the stage for another parliamentary battle in the latter half of next year, which will likely be disruptive to negotiations in 2020.

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