LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson will again try to put his Brexit agreement to a vote in Parliament on Monday after he was forced by his opponents to send a letter requesting a delay from the European Union.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks before a vote on his renegotiated Brexit agreement, on what has been called "Super Saturday", in the House of Commons in London, UK on October 19, 2019. © UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor / Dividend via REUTERS
With only ten days left until the UK will leave the EU on October 31, the divorce is again in disarray when Britain's political class argues to leave with a settlement, exit without an agreement or hold another referendum.
Johnson was ambushed by opponents in Parliament on Saturday demanding a change in the sequencing of ratification of the agreement, subjecting the Prime Minister to a law requiring him to request a delay until January 31.
In a twist that illustrates the extent to which Brexit has strained the standards of British government work, Johnson sent the note to the EU unsigned – and added another signed letter arguing against what he threw as a deeply corrosive delay.
"Further enlargement would harm the interests of the UK and our EU partners and the relationship between us," Johnson said in his own letter, signed "Boris Johnson".
The British government insisted on Sunday that it leaves the EU on 31 October and plans to put the agreement to a vote in Parliament later on Monday, but it is unclear whether the Speaker of the House of Commons will allow such a vote.
The government has proposed a debate on the deal, according to House of Commons order papers which say the speaker will make a statement on the procedure shortly after Parliament's opening at 1330 GMT.
President John Bercow is considered unlikely to allow it because this would repeat Saturday's debate, but he has not yet made his formal decision.
Sterling, which has risen more than 6% since October 10, slipped from five-month highs on Monday. It reached as low as $ 1.2850 in Asian trade before settling around $ 1.2920 GBP = D3 in London, down 0.5% on the day.
Goldman Sachs raised the likelihood of the UK leaving with a ratified settlement to 70% from 65%, lowering its view on the chance of a "no-deal" Brexit to 5% from 10% and voicing its opinion on no Brexit at all unchanged at 25%.
The EU, which has struggled with the complicated Brexit crisis since the British voted 52% -48% to leave during a referendum in 2016, was clearly confused by the contradictory signals from London.
With Brexit up in the air, the block's ambassadors on Sunday decided to play on time rather than rush to decide on Johnson's request.
From the EU's point of view, additional options range from just one more month to the end of November to six months or longer.
"We are looking for more clarity towards the end of the week and hope that at that time we will also see how things develop in London," said a leading EU diplomat.
It was unlikely that the EU's 27 remaining Member States would refuse the UK's request to delay its departure again, given the impact on all parties to a non-contractual Brexit.
In London, Johnson's ministers said they were convinced that they had the numbers to run an agreement through Parliament where opponents planned to trace the agreement he had assured the EU that he could ratify.
The opposition workers' party planned changes to the agreement that would make it unacceptable for strikes by Johnson's own party, including proposals for another referendum.
Johnson's former ally, the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has indicated that they can support a proposal for a customs union with the EU – a step that, if possible, would judge Johnson's business, The Daily Telegraph reported.
"Bad or human MPs have constantly moved the target items and removed the compression of a deadline," said Hardline Brexit supporter Steve Baker.
If Johnson's deal is destroyed just a few days before Britain's planned departure, it would leave Johnson with a choice: leave without a contract or accept a delay.
Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Toby Chopra and Angus MacSwan