UK’s Johnson prepares push to heave Brexit bill over line

LONDON (AP) – British lawmakers from across the political spectrum are expected to challenge Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s drive to push his European Union (EU) divorce bill through the House of Commons in three days, potentially scuttling plans to deliver Brexit by October 31.

The bill was expected to face two votes, with lawmakers first being asked to approve it in principle, followed by a vote on the government’s schedule for debate and possible amendments.

While many analysts expect the bill to be approved, lawmakers may reject the three-day timetable because of concerns it doesn’t provide enough time for scrutiny.

“Unless you are prepared to contemplate more expansive debate, there is not the slightest possibility of considering the deal that has been obtained within the time available,” Ken Clarke, a senior lawmaker recently ousted from Johnson’s Conservative Party, told the Guardian newspaper.

The showdown comes just nine days before Britain’s scheduled departure date.

A pro Brexit demonstrator outside the Houses of Parliament, holding a placard and a Union flag, in London. PHOTO: AP

Johnson’s government had sought a “straight up-and-down vote” on Monday on the agreement he struck last week with the 27 other EU nations laying out the terms of Britain’s exit.

But the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, refused to allow it because lawmakers voted to delay approving the Brexit deal on Saturday, and parliamentary rules bar the same measure from being considered a second time during a session of Parliament unless something has changed. Bercow’s ruling plunged the tortuous Brexit process back into grimly familiar territory. The government must now try to implement its Plan B – attempt to pass a Brexit-implementing bill through Britain’s fractious Parliament before the country’s scheduled October 31 departure date.

Opposition lawmakers plan to seek amendments that could substantially alter the bill, for example by adding a requirement that the Brexit deal be put to voters in a new referendum. The government said such an amendment would wreck its legislation and it will withdraw the bill if the opposition plan succeeds.

European Council President Donald Tusk said EU leaders “will decide in coming days” whether to grant Britain another extension to the deadline for leaving the bloc, but said their decision depends on developments in London.

Tusk said yesterday that the decision on prolonging Brexit for three months after October 31. “will very much depend on what the British Parliament decides or doesn’t decide.”