"It's a historic day", said Prime Minister Boris Johnson, barely his morning coffee swallowed and "really disappointed" to miss the quarter-finals of the Rugby World Cup between England and Australia (won by the first, 40 to 16). "It's a historic moment"replied Labor opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, who in any case prefers cricket. "What a historic opportunity!"have repeated MPs and commentators one after another for more than five hours of debate this Saturday in an overcrowded and overheated House of Commons.
And in fact, no, the historic vote did not take place. The "Super Saturday" promised was transformed into a simple Saturday failed. From the green benches of Westminster, a new rat race, sometimes difficult to understand, has occupied the time. But at the end of screams, recriminations and polite insults, carefully wrapped in centuries of use and tradition, nothing came out again. Brexit did not take place. Not yet.
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We will take the same and we will start again, probably Monday, without any guarantee of results. Three years and four months after the referendum of June 23, 2016, after two agreements and four votes lost, the Brexit is definitely a painful delivery.
However, Boris Johnson believed it, returned haloed its success in Brussels, the hero of the day who had managed to bend the Europeans, to have them reopen the withdrawal agreement of the European Union and abandon the backstop Irish. The clown that everyone had mocked and underestimated came with an agreement and was looking forward to taking advantage of the momentum set in the European Council and counting down before the October 31 deadline to bend the last reluctant MPs.
He even mentioned the "Brexit fatigue" which suffers the whole country, but also the European Union. In English, the French word "tired" is synonymous with lassitude, generalized drunkenness. And several deputies did not hesitate to evoke it, to express themselves ready to vote for this agreement, to finally finish it. Some had other ideas. And notably Oliver Letwin, former conservative recently expelled from the party for refusing to consider leaving the EU without agreement. It is exactly in this spirit that he presented an amendment, supported by members of all sides, to the Government's motion on the agreement reached in Brussels.
His reasoning was simple. Formally adopting a law, as required by EU withdrawal, takes time. Several readings take place, in the House of Commons and then at the Lords, the upper house of Parliament, before returning to the Commons to be ratified and then receive the "Royal assent"Royal Consent, meaning the signature of Queen Elizabeth II. It is only then that the law really enters the legislation.
This process allows, in principle, for a law to be carefully studied, examined and even challenged by Parliament. It takes time, sometimes a few days, sometimes a few weeks. However, October 31 is the default EU release date, in the absence of an agreement or extension request. Oliver Letwin's amendment therefore called for a letter requesting an extension to the EU to ensure that if the law was not technically fully adopted on 31 October, the UK would not go out of business. EU without agreement.
"I will vote for this agreement, but on the condition of having this assurance," insisted "The honorable member of Dorset West", the formula used to designate members of the House of Commons, where surnames are never used. The fire of the angry looks of some of his colleagues nearly pierced his suit. But he had to support him, in addition to the Labor Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Scots of the Scottish National Party, a Green MP and also many of these former Conservative colleagues.
More surprisingly, his amendment was also voted by all ten North Irish deputies of the Democratic unionist party (DUP). They felt betrayed by Boris Johnson in Brussels. For those convinced unionists, for whom attachment to Britain remains the foundation of their existence, the idea of leaving Northern Ireland in a package that would follow the rules of the common market, even provisionally, while the rest of the country would follow other rules is assimilated to abandonment outright, a step closer to reunification of the island of Ireland they want at any price.
Joy of anti-Brexit
During the debates, members of parliament close to Boris Johnson took Sammy Wilson, one of the DUP deputies, outside the House, followed a few minutes later by the DUP leader in Westminster Nigel Dodds. . The council meetings (threats, promises?) Continued until the last second. But, at the time of the vote, the fury was still present and the DUP voted the amendment. Boris Johnson lost the vote by 322 votes to 306. He knew he had no chance to pass the agreement this Saturday. And outside of Westminster, where thousands of protesters against the Brexit had gathered, the clamor of joy was deafening.
"It was an exceptional moment for our country, an exceptional moment for our Parliament"said the prime minister just after the vote. He promised a new vote on the deal, probably as early as Monday, maybe Tuesday. Before throwing, almost brave and screaming: "And to anticipate questions from the opposition benches, I will not negotiate an extension with the EU and nothing in the law compels me to do so!". The Benn law, voted last month, requires him to apply for an extension to the EU, before Saturday at midnight (Brussels time). It does not actually enjoin him to "to negotiate" anything.
True to her calm for three and a half years, resigned perhaps, sorry and probably exhausted, the European Commission has "Took note of the vote" and was careful not to say more. Monday may be finally the ultimate "Super Monday". Or not.
Sonia Delesalle-Stolper Correspondent in London
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