Brexit: Special sitting for MPs to decide UK’s future

MPs will be called to Parliament for a special Saturday sitting in a decisive day for the future of Brexit.

Parliament will meet on 19 October after a crunch EU summit – seen as the last chance for the UK and EU to agree a deal ahead of 31 October deadline.

If a deal is agreed, Boris Johnson will ask MPs to approve it – but if not, a range of options could be presented.

The BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg says these could include leaving without a deal, and halting Brexit altogether.

MPs will have to agree a business motion in the Commons for the sitting to take place.

If agreed, the additional day would coincide with an anti-Brexit march run by the People’s Vote campaign, which could see thousands of protesters heading to Westminster.

The House of Commons has only sat on four Saturdays since 1939, including on 2 September that year, due to the outbreak of World War Two.

The last time there was a Saturday sitting was 3 April 1982, due to the invasion of the Falkland Islands.

The prime minister has said he is determined that the UK will leave the EU on 31 October, despite legislation, known as the Benn Act, which requires him to write to the EU requesting a further delay if a deal is not signed off by Parliament by 19 October – or unless MPs agree to a no-deal Brexit.

Scottish judges said on Wednesday they would not rule on a legal challengefrom campaigners seeking to force the PM to send the letter – or to allow an official to send it on his behalf if he refused. They said they would delay the decision until the political debate had “played out”.

No 10 has insisted Mr Johnson will comply with the law, but Laura Kuenssberg says there are still conversations going on in Downing Street about writing a second letter, making the case that a delay is unnecessary.

Talks are ongoing between the UK and EU after Mr Johnson submitted new proposals for a Brexit deal, centred on replacing the Irish backstop – the policy negotiated between Theresa May and the EU to prevent a hard border returning to the island of Ireland.

However, the EU has said there would have to be “fundamental changes” to the ideas put forward in order for them to be acceptable.

The UK’s chief negotiator, David Frost, will meet European Commission officials later – but sources on both sides told BBC Brussels reporter Adam Fleming that technical talks had effectively reached the limit of what they could achieve.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said the government had been putting in “very intense” work in recent weeks to get a deal, so “nothing is over”.

But while getting an agreement was still their preference, they were “absolutely clear” that the UK would leave the EU on 31 October “come what may”, she added.

Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay and the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier will have a lunch meeting on Thursday to discuss the state of play.

As the clock ticks down towards the summit, the political tension has been rising.

A row broke out on Tuesday after a No 10 source said a call between Mr Johnson and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, had made a deal “essentially impossible”, claiming she made clear a deal based on his proposals was “overwhelmingly unlikely”.

Mrs Merkel’s office said it would not comment on “private” conversations.

But the President of the European Council Donald Tusk sent a public tweet to Mr Johnson, accusing him of playing a “stupid blame game” – a criticism echoed by a number of opposition parties in the UK.

On Tuesday night, Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar spoke to Mr Johnson on the phone for 45 minutes, and told broadcaster RTE afterwards it would be “very difficult” to reach an agreement before the end of the month.

However, the two leaders are expected to meet for further talks later this week, and Mr Varadkar told the Irish Dail (Parliament) on Wednesday he was “willing to work to the last moment to get a deal,”, just “not at any cost”.

Presentational grey line
Analysis box by Norman Smith, assistant political editor

This special sitting will be a huge day.

That is because it will be the moment when Boris Johnson either returns to chants of “hail the conquering hero” – if he manages to get this elusive Brexit deal – or, more likely, returns with no-deal and has to set out his next steps.

And we are hearing that No 10 may seek to seize the initiative by putting down a series of motions for MPs to vote on – in other words asking them do they want to leave with no deal, do they want to revoke Article 50, etc.

But at the same time that Boris Johnson wants to use that moment to try and grasp the initiative, it is clear the rebel alliance of opposition MPs also wants to seize the day.

They want to ensure Boris Johnson sits down, gets out the Basildon Bond and writes that letter to the European Commission asking for a further delay.

So both sides are now poised to try and gain control of that Saturday to map out the next steps, assuming – and I think it is a fairly widespread assumption in Westminster now – that there is not going to be a deal.

Presentational grey line
Brexit countdown calendar

Source: BBC

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