Boris Johnson faces a final roll of the dice to win support for his Brexit deal tomorrow after the House of Commons Speaker John Bercow blocked an attempt to hold a vote on it.
The Speaker ruled out a “meaningful vote” on a motion to approve the agreement with Brussels, leaving a vote on legislation to implement the deal today as the only option left to get the backing of MPs.
Rejection of the Withdrawal Agreement Implementation Bill (WAIB) would throw the entire Brexit process into limbo, with no further meaningful votes possible without an election or yet another prorogation of Parliament.
Even if the legislation is approved in today’s vote at second reading in the Commons, MPs can effectively guarantee a Brexit delay is needed by ensuring the programme motion - setting out the timetable for passage of the WAIB - runs beyond the 31 October.
Urging MPs to back the legislation, the Prime Minister will tell MPs today: “The public doesn’t want any more delays, neither do other European leaders and neither do I. Let’s get Brexit done on 31 October and move on.”
The government said it intends to complete passage of the WAIB through the Commons by Thursday. The legislation was published tonight, giving MPs barely a day to consider the 100-page bill before they first vote on it, and just 72 hours in total.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the Commons should have “ample time to scrutinise what this deal means to the communities that we all represent”.
Nicola Sturgeon claimed the government’s attempt to “ram through legislation of this complexity, significance and long lasting consequences in just three days is an abomination of scrutiny and democracy”.
And SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford accused ministers of trying to “force through his toxic Brexit deal without due process and scrutiny”.
“SNP MPs will not support the UK government’s programme motion which will attempt to bulldoze through Parliament the toxic Brexit Bill – without a shred of scrutiny and would give the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly little more than a day to consider the bill,” Mr Blackford said.
“Boris Johnson must secure a meaningful extension to the Brexit deadline from the EU so that full scrutiny of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill can take place.”
If the legislation passes at second reading, MPs are set to debate until midnight tonight and tomorrow to consider amendments. Labour has denied it is trying to scupper the Prime Minister’s agreement, by planning to amend it to keep the UK in the EU customs union and put the deal to a referendum.
Downing Street warned that passing either of those amendments could kill off the agreement altogether. The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said any change that “steps too far away from what was agreed in the Withdrawal Agreement and the political declaration, that does bring into question ratification".
A previous vote on staying in the customs union was defeated by just three votes - although three Tory MPs who backed it are now government ministers, and another supporter, the Scottish Tory Paul Masterton, said he would not do so again.
“This argument is for future relationship discussions, not a tool to be used to try and derail the deal being agreed,” Mr Masterton posted on twitter.
The SNP previously abstained on membership of a customs union because it would not bring the full benefits of staying in the EU single market, and sources said the party was unlikely to support an amendment on it.
The government was blocked from holding a meaningful vote on Mr Johnson’s deal on Saturday, when a historic weekend sitting of parliament was hijacked by an amendment from former Tory MP Sir Oliver Letwin.
MPs approved the Letwin Amendment by 322 votes to 306, which withholds approval for the deal until the WAIB is passed.
Rejecting the government’s attempt to immediately reschedule a meaningful vote this afternoon, Mr Bercow said it would be “repetitive and disorderly” to do so.
The Speaker said the circumstances and the substance of the motion were the same as Saturday’s and that it should not be debated because convention preventing the same matter being discussed twice.
He came under fire from some Brexit-backing MPs, including Conservative Sir Bernard Jenkin, who said it was “becoming remarkable” how often Mr Bercow’s rulings please “one lot and not the other lot”.
Downing Street said the Government was “disappointed” with the Speaker’s ruling, and would now go ahead with the introduction of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill.
Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay called on MPs to “respect the referendum” by backing the Bill, warning them: “This is the chance to leave the EU with a deal on 31 October.”