Prime Minister Boris Johnson fought attempts Saturday to potentially further delay Britain’s protracted departure from the European Union, as MPs debated his divorce deal less than two weeks before the Brexit deadline.
Parliament was holding its first Saturday sitting since the 1982 Falklands War to discuss the terms of a last-ditch divorce agreement Johnson struck with European Union leaders Thursday.
Opposition parties and Johnson’s own Northern Irish allies have rejected the text, forcing frantic government attempts to try to win the support of wavering MPs.
The prime minister needs a clear vote in favour of his deal on Saturday to avoid triggering a law requiring him to ask the EU to delay Brexit for the third time.
The Conservative leader says it is time to bring some closure to a tortuous process sparked by the 2016 referendum vote for Brexit, which has plunged Britain into political turmoil and divided the nation.
But support is growing for an amendment to withhold MPs’ approval unless and until legislation required to ratify the treaty has passed.
Its author, Oliver Letwin, a former Conservative minister, fears the ratification process may not be complete by October 31 risking an accidental “no deal” Brexit.
Backed by the main opposition, the amendment would have the effect of forcing Johnson to ask to delay something he has said he would “rather be dead in a ditch” than do.
Any extension would depend on all 27 EU leaders saying yes. However, Britain could still leave the EU on October 31.
The government intends to bring forward the ratifying law on Monday, and it could still pass parliament by the end of the month.
Addressing the lower House of Commons ahead of the vote, Johnson said further delay would be “pointless, expensive and deeply corrosive to public trust”.
He said his deal would be a “new way forward and a new and better deal both for Britain and our friends in the EU”.