Prime Minister Boris Johnson puts his last-minute Brexit deal to a vote in an extraordinary sitting of the British parliament on Saturday, a day of reckoning that could decide the course of the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union.
More than three years since the United Kingdom voted 52-48 to be the first sovereign country to leave the European project, Johnson will try to win parliament’s approval for the divorce treaty he struck in Brussels on Thursday.
In a day of Brexit high drama, lawmakers convene for the first Saturday sitting since the 1982 Argentine invasion of the Falklands, while hundreds of thousands of people march to parliament demanding another referendum.
There are reports that the day could end up disappointing for Johnson as the opposition and Tory rebels have a different plan, which does not include voting on the amended Brexit deal.
Bloomberg reported that support is growing for a move by an alliance of former Conservatives and opposition Members of Parliament to delay the decision by a week or more.
Former Tory minister Oliver Letwin and Labour MP Hilary Benn have put down an amendment to Johnson’s motion which would withhold approval for the Brexit deal until the bill that implements it is law.
If it is passed, Johnson would be unable to put his deal to the vote, leaving him in a situation where he’s obliged by law to seek a delay to Brexit.
The main opposition Labour Party is likely to order its MPs to support the amendment, according to two persons familiar with the party’s plans.
Other opposition parties are also on board. Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the 35-seat Scottish National Party, said she’s “sympathetic” to the plan and would back anything that makes sure the deal doesn’t go through on Saturday.
Johnson doesn’t have a majority, so a united opposition and the support of former Tories, such as Philip Hammond and David Gauke, gives the move a good chance of passing.
The amendment says Parliament should withhold approval of the deal “unless and until implementing legislation is passed.” That would automatically trigger the Benn Act, which says the prime minister must ask the EU for an extension if he hasn’t finalized a deal with both the EU and U.K. Parliament by Oct. 19.
Johnson cast the vote in parliament as the last chance to secure an orderly Brexit. Though he is obliged by law to seek a Brexit delay if his deal falls, Johnson said the United Kingdom would still leave on Oct. 31. He didn’t explain how.
“There have been any number of false dawns. Deadlines for our departure have come and gone,” Johnson, the face of the 2016 campaign to leave the EU, wrote in Britain’s best selling newspaper, The Sun. “Today can be the day we get Brexit done.”
The so called “Super Saturday” Brexit extravaganza tops a frenetic week which saw Johnson confound his opponents by clinching a new Brexit deal only to find his Northern Irish allies oppose the deal he struck.
In a divided parliament where he has no majority and opponents are plotting maximum political damage ahead of an imminent election, Johnson must now win the support of 320 lawmakers to pass his deal through a booby-trapped legislature.
If he wins the vote, Johnson will go down in history as the leader who delivered a Brexit – for good or bad – that pulls the United Kingdom far out of the EU’s orbit.
If he fails, Johnson will face the humiliation of Brexit unravelling after repeatedly promising that he would get it done – “do or die” – by Oct. 31.
Parliament will sit from 0830 GMT on Saturday. Johnson will make a statement to lawmakers, after which there will be a debate and then votes on amendments and finally – if all goes according to the government’s plan – his deal.