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    Brexit: MPs set for knife-edge vote on Boris Johnson's deal

    October 19, 2019

    Parliament is sitting on a Saturday for the first time in 37 years to vote on Boris Johnson's Brexit deal.The PM has been trying to convince MPs to support the agreement he secured with the EU, ahead of what is expected to be a knife-edge vote in the Commons His former DUP allies and opposition parties plan to vote against it. Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay admitted the vote could be "close" but said the government has "listened to the concerns of MPs across all sides"."Now it's time for MPs to step up to their responsibility to get this deal passed, and allow the country to move forward," he told BBC Breakfast.At least nine Labour MPs are expected support the government while the PM is hoping to be backed by some of the 21 Tory MPs he sacked for opposing him last month.
    Steve Baker, the chairman of the European Research Group, a group of Tory Brexiteers, recommended its members vote in favour of the deal at a meeting on Saturday morning.Business in the House of Commons will start at 9:30 BST - the first weekend sitting since the invasion of the Falklands in 1982.Mr Johnson will make a statement to MPs and face their questions before the House moves on to a debate about the deal.Letwin amendment
    The timing of any votes depends on which amendments are chosen by the Speaker of the Commons, John Bercow, but they are not expected before 14:30.The most significant and controversial amendment is one put down by former Tory Sir Oliver Letwin, who now sits as an independent, which would withhold parliamentary support for the deal unless and until legislation implementing the agreement in UK law is passed by MPs.If this is passed, it would force the prime minister to seek a further delay to Brexit beyond the 31 October deadline - under the terms of the Benn Act passed last month.
    The BBC's political editor Laura Kuenssberg said its "brutal effect" would be to deny the PM the opportunity of having the "conclusive" vote on his deal he so badly wants.A No 10 source has said the vote on Mr Johnson's deal will be abandoned if the amendment is passed, saying it will "render the entire day meaningless"."A vote for Letwin is a vote for delay and the whips will send everyone home," they said. "It would perfectly sum up this broken Parliament."Former Tory Chancellor Philip Hammond, who is backing the amendment, told the BBC it was an "insurance policy" to ensure the UK did not leave the EU later this month without a deal if the necessary legislation was not passed in time or was scuppered by MPs."This cannot be the final vote because we don't know the full shape of the package," he told BBC Radio 4's Today.He insisted he was not trying to stop Brexit and it might only lead to a delay to the UK's departure of a matter of weeks.And after three years of chicanery, on Saturday another decision will be put before the Commons - one that gives MPs what sounds like an elegant way to give only qualified approval to his deal, which might have brutal political effect.
    The Letwin amendment is at best is a mere insurance policy that avoids an accidental departure without a formal agreement.But by the author Oliver Letwin's own admission, it blurs today's decision.And at worst, it's seen by government as one more rock cast in the path towards departure, another excuse for reluctant MPs to apply the brakes.So today may not be a moment of saying the simple yes or no the prime minister craves.The Commons once more will be asked to pick, between this deal, no deal, or another delay.But the prime minister will keep, and keep, trying to force a moment of clarity.

    Mr Johnson's revised deal with the EU, secured at a Brussels summit on Thursday, ditches former PM Theresa May's backstop, the measure designed to prevent a return to physical checks on the Irish border.

    Instead it will, in effect, draw a new customs border along the Irish Sea.

    'Come together'
    Ahead of the Commons debate, Mr Johnson urged MPs to "come together" to back his Brexit deal, insisting there was "no better outcome".

    Writing in the Sun, Mr Johnson urged MPs to back his deal, saying: "There have been any number of false dawns. Deadlines for our departure have come and gone.

    "I ask everyone to cast their mind forward to the end of today - and imagine what it could be like if the new Brexit deal has been approved.

    "A difficult, divisive and - yes - painful chapter in our history would be at an end."

    Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
    Image caption
    The prime minister and the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced the new deal at a summit on Thursday
    A number of Tory MPs who voted against Mrs May's agreement on all three occasions it was put to the Commons - the so-called "Spartans" - have said they will be supporting the deal.

    These include Mark Francois, the deputy chairman of the ERG of Tory Brexiteers, Iain Duncan Smith and Bernard Jenkin.

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    Also crucial to Mr Johnson's hopes of success will be the Tories who had the whip withdrawn for supporting a bill to force the PM to seek an extension to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

    Sir Nicholas Soames, who is one such former Tory, has indicated he will vote in favour of the deal, adding the other 20 would "by and large vote for it".

    However, Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionists have made clear they will not be voting for the deal and have been trying to persuade hardline Brexiteers to follow their lead.

    The vast majority of Labour MPs will oppose the deal, which Jeremy Corbyn has branded a "sell-out" which risked "triggering a race to the bottom on rights and protections".

    Ahead of the vote, the government appears to have moved to allay concerns expressed by some Labour MPs by announcing that workers' rights and environmental standards will be boosted post-Brexit.

    Downing Street confirmed its pledges followed discussions held with opposition MPs.

    Mr Johnson has repeatedly said Brexit will happen by the end of the month with or without a deal.

    However, MPs passed a law in September, known as the Benn Act, which requires the PM to send a letter to the EU asking for an extension until January 2020 if a deal is not agreed - or if MPs do not back a no-deal Brexit.

    On Friday, the governor of the Bank of England welcomed the new deal, saying it would take away the "risk of a disorderly Brexit" - but added it would not boost the economy to the same extent as the previous deal struck by Theresa May.

    Mr Barclay said he disagreed that the new deal was not as good for the economy, saying it allowed the government to "secure trade deals" around the world.

    Asked why the Treasury has not published analysis of the economic impact of the new deal, Mr Barclay replied: "The deal was only reached on Thursday.

    "We've only had two days."

    On Saturday, thousands of people are expected in central London, to call for a so-called People's Vote, asking for a new referendum on the Brexit deal.
    Brexit: What is in Boris Johnson's new deal with the EU?
    By Reality Check team
    BBC News
    17 October 2019
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    Image copyrightREUTERS
    A revised Brexit deal has been agreed by the UK and EU. What is in it?

    All sides want to avoid the return of a "hard border" between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit - with checks and infrastructure which could be targeted by paramilitary groups.

    Coming up with solutions to this - acceptable to all sides - has been very challenging.

    The new protocol replaces the controversial Irish backstop plan in Theresa May's deal. Much of the rest of that deal will remain.

    Here are some of the key new parts:

    The whole of the UK will leave the EU customs union. This means the UK will be able to strike trade deals with other countries in the future.

    There will be a legal customs border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (which stays in the EU). But in practice the customs border will be between Great Britain and the island of Ireland, with goods being checked at "points of entry" in Northern Ireland.

    Duty (tax) won't automatically have to be paid on goods coming into Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

    But where something is "at risk" of then being transported into the Republic of Ireland (which is part of the EU customs union), duty will be paid.

    A joint committee made up of UK and EU representatives will decide at a later date what goods are considered "at risk".

    It might be that duty is paid on goods that do not end up being sent on from Northern Ireland into the EU. The UK would be responsible for whether to refund the duty in these circumstances.

    Ordinary people won't have their baggage checked and duty won't apply to individuals sending goods to other people.

    There will also be limits agreed by the joint committee on the amount of help the government can give to Northern Irish farmers. The figure will be based on the amount they currently receive from the EU's Common Agricultural Policy.

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    Regulations on goods
    When it comes to the regulation of goods, Northern Ireland would keep to the rules of the EU's single market, rather than UK rules.

    That removes the need for product standard and safety checks on goods at the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, because both will be part of an "all-island regulatory zone".

    But it adds to the checks between the rest of the UK - which will not be sticking to EU single market rules - and Northern Ireland.

    Enforcing the rules
    This will be done by UK officials at "points of entry into" Northern Ireland, but the EU will have the right to have its own officials present.

    It seems those EU officials may be able to overrule UK officials. "Where the Union representative requests the authorities of the United Kingdom to carry out control measures in individual cases for duly stated reasons, the authorities of the United Kingdom shall carry out those control measures."

    Northern Ireland's say
    Because Northern Ireland will be set apart from the rest of the UK when it comes to customs and other EU rules, the deal gives its Assembly a vote on these provisions.

    But this vote would not happen until four years after the end of the transition period that is due to run until the end of 2020 - so no earlier than January 2025.

    If the Northern Irish Assembly votes against the provisions, they would lose force two years later during which time the "joint committee" would make recommendations to the UK and EU on "necessary measures".

    If the Assembly accepts the continuing provisions by a simple majority, they will then apply for another four years. If the deal has "cross-community support" then they will apply for eight years, or until a new agreement on the future relationship is reached if that comes sooner.

    The deal defines cross-community support as more than 50% each of unionist and nationalist Assembly members voting in favour, or at least 40% of members from each designation if in total at least 60% of members have voted in favour.

    The UK government has said that if the Northern Ireland Assembly is still not sitting at that point, it will make alternative arrangements to make sure a vote can take place.

    The new agreement says that EU law on value added tax (VAT - a tax added when you make purchases) will apply in Northern Ireland, but only on goods, not services.

    But it also allows Northern Ireland to have different VAT rates to the rest of the UK, which would not normally be allowed under EU law.

    For example, if the UK decided to reduce the VAT on household fuel to zero, Northern Ireland would still have to keep it at 5%, which is the EU minimum.

    It also means that Northern Ireland may get the same VAT rates on certain goods as the Republic of Ireland, to stop there being an unfair advantage on either side of the border.

    Some things have not changed:
    Much of Mrs May's original Brexit deal will remain as part of the overall agreement. Some of the key areas are:

    The transition - a period of time during which all of the current rules stay the same allowing the UK and the EU to negotiate their future relationship - is due to last until the end of December 2020.

    The UK will need to abide by EU rules and pay into the EU budget, but will lose membership of its institutions.

    The transition can be extended, but only for a period of one or two years.

    Both the UK and EU must agree to any extension.

    Citizens' rights
    UK citizens in the EU, and EU citizens in the UK, will retain their residency and social security rights after Brexit.

    Freedom of movement rules will continue to apply during transition. This means that UK nationals will be able to live and work in EU countries (and EU nationals will be able to live and work in UK) during this period.

    Anyone who remains in the same EU country for five years will be allowed to apply for permanent residence.

    The UK will have to settle its financial obligations to the EU.

    There is no precise figure but the biggest part of this "divorce bill" will be the UK contributions to the 2019 and 2020 EU budgets.

    As Brexit was delayed from 29 March to 31 October 2019, some of that money has been paid as part of the UK's normal membership contributions already. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) estimates that the bill is now around £33bn (down from £39bn).

    The OBR expects that most of the money - around three-quarters of the total - would be paid by 2022, with some relatively small payments still being made in the 2060s.

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    Future UK/EU relationship
    This is addressed in the political declaration. This text, which is not legally binding, has also been revised by UK/EU negotiators.

    It says that both sides will work towards a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and a high-level meeting will be convened in June 2020 to take stock of progress towards this goal.

    The text also contains a new paragraph on the so-called "level playing field" - the degree to which the UK will agree to stick closely to EU regulations in the future.

    While the references to a "level playing field" were removed from the legally binding withdrawal agreement, the revised political declaration says that the UK and the EU should "uphold the common high standards […] in the areas of state aid, competition, social and employment standards, environment, climate change, and relevant tax matters".
    Brexit: What is the Letwin amendment and will it pass?
    Mark D'Arcy
    Parliamentary correspondent
    18 October 2019
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    Image copyrightPA MEDIA
    The latest gambit by the alliance of MPs around Sir Oliver Letwin looks like a real problem for the government whips, as they prepare for Saturday's critical vote on the new-look Brexit deal.

    The amendment would withhold approval of the deal, until the legislation to enact it was safely passed - a move that would automatically trigger the "Benn Act" and force the prime minister to request a further postponement of Brexit until 31 January.

    (There are also a couple of SNP amendments, but the lesson of the Brexit battles so far is that it is the cross-party amendments and motions that are the most dangerous. Single party proposals are mostly efforts to signal a position, it's the proposals that MPs from several parties can sign up to that pose a more serious threat.)

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    Sir Oliver's amendment is a cunningly-crafted proposition which, crucially, could be voted for by MPs who want a deal, but don't trust this one, and don't trust the government.

    It rests on the idea that were Parliament to approve the deal for the purposes of the Benn Act now, there might then be a danger that the subsequent legislation to enact it might be, somehow, derailed, resulting in a no-deal exit on 31 October.

    With the Benn Act out of the way, they believe that some manoeuvre, some legislative judo move, by factions inside and outside the government, who favour a "clean Brexit" could leave no time for any effective counter… and Britain would be out, with no deal.

    This reflects the sheer level of distrust that has accumulated over several cycles of Brexit angst.

    Image copyrightPA MEDIA
    The government's attempt to prorogue Parliament in September has permanently scarred the soft Brexit/Remain faction; they might be offered some reassurances, but they could well demand a pact signed in blood.

    So never mind the plausibility of the betrayal scenario, look at the support for the amendment.

    It is signed by Sir Oliver, the former Chancellor Philip Hammond, and the former Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke - the big names of the rebel Conservative group who lost the party whip - and by Nick Boles, one of the apostles of a "Norway Option" compromise.

    That suggests the amendment may well have enough (ex) Tory support to pass… unless there's a countervailing Labour rebellion in the government's favour.

    There are certainly a number of Labour MPs (and independents of various stripes) who, like Mr Boles, yearn for a Brexit deal they can back.

    But this may not be it.

    A key factor is that they want a deal which keeps the UK in close alignment with the EU - particularly on labour standards, environmental protection and consumer safeguards, and they detect what they believe is a weakening of the government's commitment to those "level playing field" commitments.

    Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay insisted at this week's Brexit Select Committee meeting that the government was not seeking to turn Britain into a deregulated "Singapore-on-Thames", competing with the EU on its very doorstep.

    Labour voices, like the influential former minister Pat McFadden question whether, after a journalistic career which produced scores of columns denouncing EU red tape, the PM would really keep those protections in place.


    Media captionCrunching the numbers as MPs prepare for key Brexit vote
    The Letwin amendment would invite the government to put forward a bill to implement their deal - but bills are amendable, and you can bet that everything from a requirement to stay in a customs union to making the whole thing subject to a further referendum would then be proposed.

    (Although, to succeed, a referendum amendment would require Labour support, and Labour's internal wrangling on that point is some way from being resolved.)

    And with a minority government struggling for control of the Commons, ministers could well see a number of unwelcome changes imposed by MPs.

    It is even possible that the government could decline the invitation and pull its motion, before it could be voted on.

    Over the next few hours the government will be seeking to soothe the concerns underlying Letwin's amendment, and pressure its own rebels back into line.

    It's going to be a tough sell.

    Apologies for the non-appearance of my week ahead in Westminster blog, last week. This was due to man-flu. I plan to post a look ahead to next week's business, on Saturday. Because the outcome of Saturday's votes could well reshape the parliamentary programme.

    rexit deal: Which MP votes are up for grabs?
    By Peter Barnes
    Senior elections and political analyst, BBC News
    18 October 2019
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    Media captionCrunching the numbers as MPs prepare for key Brexit vote
    After agreeing a revised Brexit deal with the European Union (EU), Boris Johnson now has to convince MPs to vote for it in Parliament to fulfil his pledge for the UK to leave the EU on 31 October.

    The agreement negotiated by Theresa May was voted down three times. So how might the numbers stack up for Mr Johnson? The BBC's political research unit has got its calculator out.

    How many votes does he need?
    There are 650 seats in total in the House of Commons. The Speaker, who presides over the House of Commons and decides who gets to speak, and three deputy speakers, do not, by convention, vote.

    Seven Sinn Fein MPs do not vote either as they choose not to take their seats on political grounds.

    Assuming every other MP votes, then Boris Johnson needs 320 votes to give his deal a majority.

    If any MP decides not to vote or "abstains" - then the number needed for a majority would come down.

    Who could vote for it?
    Not these parties: the Scottish National Party (SNP), Liberal Democrats, the Independent Group for Change, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party. They have all said they will vote against the deal.

    The Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has said its 10 MPs will all vote against the deal but the government is still trying to persuade them otherwise.

    The other groups that Mr Johnson needs to sway are:

    Labour MPs who might rebel against the party line
    The European Research Group (ERG) of Conservative Brexiteers
    Conservative MPs expelled from the party in September, most of whom backed Theresa May's deal
    While Labour also plans to tell its MPs to vote against the deal, the BBC is aware of nine Labour MPs who say they are planning to, or are very likely to, defy party orders and back Mr Johnson's deal.

    There are another 15 who are currently undecided - mostly MPs in Leave-voting constituencies who want a deal but aren't impressed by the deal on the table. We'd probably expect most of these to vote against although we can't be certain.

    Then there are the Independents. It seems likely that most of the 21 former Conservatives who were kicked out of the party (or in parliamentary language had "the whip withdrawn") are likely to back the deal - but some are expected to vote against and a handful are undecided.

    There could also be some support from ex-Labour independents. For independent MPs we think there could be six undecided.

    Among current Conservative MPs, Boris Johnson has won over 15 of the ERG who previously rejected Theresa May's deal three times.

    There are another 14 Conservative MPs (mostly ERG too) who are undecided. We'd probably expect most of these to back the deal although, again, we can't be certain.

    All of that gives just over 300 MPs currently planning to vote for the deal and almost exactly the same number currently planning to vote against.

    That leaves 35 MPs who are undecided, or unwilling to say anything.





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