Richard North, 20/10/2019  

Continuing his almost continuous run of bad luck in the House of Commons, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson managed to let the Letwin amendment get away from him, with the ayes voting 322 against the noes coming in with 306 votes.

If the DUP had voted the other way, the amendment would have been defeated and the government motion could have been tabled, allowing the swamp dwellers to vote on whether they approved Johnson's deal. As it was, this served as a savage reminder to the prime minister in office that you can only shaft so many people before some start biting back.

The amended motion then was agreed without a division, thereby leaving Johnson technically in breach of the Benn Act (even though he already was, before the Letwin amendment was voted on), but unwilling to admit to MPs that he was going to send an extension request to Brussels.

With him fluffing his lines, we had to listen to him declaring, "I will not negotiate a delay with the EU, and neither does the law compel me to do so". He added: "I will tell our friends and colleagues in the EU exactly what I’ve told everyone in the last 88 days that I've served as Prime Minister: that further delay would be bad for this country, bad for the European Union and bad for democracy".

Nevertheless, it was to be Donald Tusk who kept us informed, with him confirming that the request for an extension had arrived at around 10pm our time. Tusk says he is to start consulting "EU leaders" on how to react, while Johnson is also planning to talk to Merkel and Macron.

In the meantime, the government has intimated that it will again seek a vote on the new Withdrawal Agreement on Monday, before the debates start on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill which, if passed, will turn Johnson's deal into law and have the effect of ratifying it.

However, predictably, the speaker may block this new vote, on the basis that it is a repeat of Saturday's proceedings, in which case Johnson will be reliant on the passage of the Bill into law to give him the formal agreement of parliament, notice of which he must send to Brussels.

But now it gets really interesting. Alongside his request for an extension, Johnson has sent a signed letter (and here) which makes it perfectly clear that he considers that "a further extension would damage the interests of the UK and our EU partners, and the relationship between us".

Despite this, in the actual extension request (which is unsigned) he does ask for the extension to last until 11.00pm GMT on 31 January 2020 but he also suggests that, "If the parties are able to ratify before this date, the government proposes that the period should be terminated early".

If that latter provision was included, that could effectively square the circle. If all the "necessary internal procedures" had been completed and notified before or by 31 October, the UK could leave as planned, without the extension ever coming into effect.

This might actually be a better plan than prevailing on the European Council to reject the request outright. In that, there is the grave danger of ending up with a no-deal Brexit.

The crucial issue here is that one of the "necessary internal procedures" which must be completed before the Agreement comes into force, is the European Parliament (EP) giving its formal "consent" to the conclusion of the Agreement by the Council. This it must do by voting at a full session known as a "plenary".

But, as we have already recorded, Verhofstadt has said that the EP will not start the consent procedure until the Westminster parliament has approved the deal - or formally ratified it. Since the deal was not approved yesterday, and may not be approved Monday, it will have to wait to be ratified. If Verhofstadt is as good as his word, the EP will not formally look at the deal until the Withdrawal Agreement has been ratified by Westminster.

It is extremely unlikely that the ratification Bill will get Royal Assent this coming week, which means that the EP will miss the plenary slot in Strasbourg, when it could vote on whether to give consent. The next slot is on 13/14 November in Brussels. Obviously, that is after 31 October and if the UK isn't covered by an extension, it would drop out of the EU at the end of October without a deal.

In its 6pm News 24 broadcast yesterday, the BBC Brussels correspondent glibly said that the EP could be recalled if need be. But the man is speaking from ignorance. The BBC has never really understood the European Parliament, rarely reports on it and always under-estimates it. And much the same goes for the rest of the legacy media, as well as Downing Street.

What they are not taking into account is that, the week after this week's Strasbourg plenary (the last period in the run-up to the end of the month), is what we used to call a "white week", where there were no activities scheduled (so the calendar was blank – i.e. white). It's now become a politically correct turquoise.

Because of this, most of the 751 MEPs (plus many of their staff – bringing the total to about 2,000) will be at home (or in their constituencies or on various expeditions, which could be anywhere in the world). This would not be like recalling parliament in the UK. MEPs will be spread all over Europe and beyond. There will be flights and hotels to book – difficult at short notice. Many will have previous commitments and they can't be forced to attend. There could be problems making up a quorum.

On that basis, the chances of the EP giving its consent by 31 October is vanishingly small (although, as we know, things can change very quickly). But assuming the earliest that it can do its business is 13 November, everything now depends on the European Council giving an extension. If it doesn't, then it is almost certainly too late for the EU formally to conclude the Agreement by the end of the month - without which, technically, there is no deal. A no-deal Brexit, therefore, is still on the table.

Of course, there is nothing that obliges the European Council to give us an extension – with or without an early termination provision. It could turn round and say: "you got a deal, what more do you want?" Furthermore, any one Member State could veto the extension. The refusnik might cite as its grounds that the Westminster vote is an internal UK affair, declaring: "Nuffink to do wiv us, Guv!" (or the French equivalent).

This could actually give the EU a "get out of jail free" card - a blame-free no-deal, relieving them of the obligation to implement their bit of Johnson's dog's dinner deal. It would also give Johnson a free pass to a no-deal Brexit. Both could blame the swamp dwellers, the Westminster MPs who could have fallen unwittingly into a dangerous trap.

Already, some had to be given a police escort to leave parliament yesterday – Rees-Mogg (with his son) being one of them – but if they are held responsible for a no-deal Brexit, they could be needing police protection for the rest of their lives.

Be that as it may, the next effect of what was being called "Super Saturday" is that we are extremely unlikely to be leaving the EU on 31 October. But there is a very good chance that any extension will be short, characterised as a "technical extension", as long as Johnson doesn't make the mistake of convincing the European Council not to give him any extension. Then we could be out on the 14 November, after the EP and the GAC has done its stuff.

That, though, is all dependent on the Westminster parliament passing the Bill that is to be placed before it. If that is somehow blocked, two things will happen. Johnson's Withdrawal Agreement will never come into force – and the swamp dweller collective will have confirmed that it has a death wish.

Like it or not (and most don't), this deal gets us out of the EU and into the transition period. For sure, that is only the start of our problems because the idiot Johnson says the 14-month period to reach a free trade deal with the EU is sufficient even though it is "a blistering pace". But that is another battle.

That aside, there is a strong mood in the country that wants to see the games ending. Parliament is in that last chance saloon. It might be bailed out by the European Council giving us an extension (without the intervention of which, we could be heading for a no-deal), but it would be wise not to prolong any delay beyond the limit of tolerance.

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