London, Oct. 23 : British Prime Minister Boris Johnson put his Brexit deal on hold Tuesday night, almost certainly ruling out any chance of Britain leaving the European Union (EU) at the end of October.
It was a sweet and sour night for Johnson in the House of Commons, finally winning support for his Brexit deal, also known as the Withdrawal Agreement reached by London and Brussels last week, but minutes later seeing the finishing line snatched from him by a second vote by MPs.
His Brexit deal won in the House of Commons by a vote of 329 to 299, with politicians saying he had succeeded in doing what his predecessor Theresa May had failed to do on three occasions.
But it was no cause for celebration as moments later MPs by 322 to 308 rejected his call for the Brexit process to be fast tracked by the Commons by this coming Thursday.
After the second result was announced, Johnson said the Brexit bill would be paused to enable him to consult with EU leaders.
The defeat dealt a new blow to Johnson as he was trying to drive through the House of Commons in time for his “do or die” Brexit deadline on Oct. 31.
Earlier in a day-long debate, Johnson said he would seek a general election if he lost the Tuesday vote, though in his initial reaction to the results, he made no mention of an election.
“We now face further uncertainty, and the EU must now make up their minds over how to respond to parliament’s request for a delay,” he said.
The government policy remains that Britain should not delay Brexit, the prime minister said, adding that Britain should leave the EU on Oct. 31.
“And that is what I will say to the EU, and report back to the house,” he said. “One way or another, we will leave the EU with this deal.”
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour party, told MPs immediately after the government’s crucial defeat on the program motion that “Tonight, the House of Commons has refused to be bounced into debating a hugely significant piece of legislation in just two days with barely any notice and analysis of the economic impact of this bill.”
One MP described Johnson’s defeat as a flesh wound, with calls for the Leader of the Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, to come forward with a new timetable.
Rees-Mogg conceded it is very hard to see how it is possible for the withdrawal agreement bill to pass by the October deadline.
At present, Johnson was paying the price for losing the support of the 10 MPs belonging to the Northern Ireland based Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), observers said.
During the debate, the issue of Northern Ireland sovereignty appears to be a sticking point for many lawmakers. They say they have been wounded by Johnson’s bill that will impose an EU frontier down the Irish Sea, leaving Northern Ireland on the EU-side of the border.
Although Johnson had insisted that the deal meant all of Britain, including Northern Ireland, leaving the EU, the DUP just didn’t accept the assurances.
One political commentator, the Daily Telegraph’s Asa Bennett, said, “Boris Johnson still paying the price for losing DUP with his Brexit deal.”
Bennett said if the 10 DUP MPs had voted for Johnson’s breakneck program motion, it would have passed.
In the ensuing chaos, MPs at Westminster will have to wait to discover what happens next.