The government’s latest thinking:
This has been a confusing morning at Westminster. Here is the latest on the government’s thinking from the FT’s Whitehall editor James Blitz:
The government’s plans for a historic ‘Meaningful Vote’ on the Johnson deal have been undermined by Oliver Letwin’s amendment which insists that support for the pact is withheld until accompanying legislation is fully on the statute book.
We need to see this afternoon whether the Letwin amendment will pass. But after a briefing from Number 10 officials this morning, this seems to be how Mr Johnson is planning to take things forward:
1. The Letwin amendment will be put to the Commons this afternoon ahead of the Meaningful Vote. If it passes, the Meaningful Vote on Johnson’s deal will fall because the Conservative whips will tell their MPs to go home or abstain.
2. Boris Johnson will be mandated by the Benn Act to seek an extension to Britain’s EU membership to January 31, 2020. It is unclear how Mr Johnson will respond but Number 10 has always said he will abide by the law.
3. The government will try and regain the initiative by bringing the Withdrawal Agreement Implementation Bill (WAIB) – which legislates the UK-EU pact – to the Commons on Tuesday. This will involve two key votes.
4. First, there will be a “programme motion” that tasks parliament to get the WAIB onto the statute book by October 31, the deadline Mr Johnson has set for Britain’s departure from the EU.
5. Second there will be a vote on the WAIB at its second reading stage on Tuesday. This will effectively become the landmark vote on whether the Commons wishes to go ahead with the Johnson deal or not.
6. If that is passed, the government may need to amend the WAIB to make clear there is no need for a Meaningful Vote. It will then rush to get the WAIB enacted by October 31
This seems to be how the government wants to play things. But caution: we need to see first if the Letwin motion passes this afternoon. This is by no means certain. If it doesn’t pass the critical Meaningful Vote on the Johnson deal really will take place tonight.
Government calls on Letwin to drop amendment
Stephen Barclay, the Brexit secretary, has called on Oliver Letwin to withdraw his amendment.
Mr Barclays said the amendment would “render today’s vote meaningless.”
“It would cause further delay when our country and our businesses want an end to the uncertainty.”
Mr Lewtin was unmoved following the plea.
Nick Boles, the former conservative and now independent MP, tweeted a few moments ago that speculation Mr Letwin could pull his amendment is baseless.
“He will forgive me for observing that there is more chance of him being called up to the England rugby team,” he said.
Protesters descend on London to demand second referendum
Thousands are streaming into and across the capital to take part in a pro-referendum march that will start at Park Lane near Marble Arch, reports Jennifer Thompson as demonstrators gather in central London.
Protesters calling for a second referendum to give the public a say over Brexit will march to Westminster where the prime minister will present to parliament a Brexit deal designed to clear the way for the UK’s departure from the EU on the scheduled date of October 31.
The march will begin at noon on Park Lane near Speakers’ Corner, proceed through Mayfair and St James and end in Parliament Square outside the House of Commons.
The People’s Vote campaign estimates hundreds of thousands will be at the march. The all-time record for a UK protest was the 2003 demonstration against the Iraq war, which was claimed to be close to 2m.
“This Brexit crisis has now come down to a simple question about whether we live in a democracy: can we allow Boris Johnson to force no-deal – or another vicious form of Brexit – on our country, without all of us having our voice heard?” the organisers’ website said ahead of the rally.
Speakers will include shadow chancellor John McDonnell and actor Patrick Stewart.
The parliamentary vote is set to be nail-bitingly close. Without a majority the prime minister has to assemble a coalition of MPs to vote for his Brexit deal. Here’s the maths from the FT
Labour to whip for Letwin amendment
Labour will whip its MPs in favour of the Letwin amendment today, reports Sebastian Payne. A spokesperson for leader Jeremy Corbyn say they won’t allow the PM to “blackmail MPs between his sell-out deal and no deal.”
Johnson fears vote will not be meaningful
An interesting line from the prime minister, which underlines fears in Downing Street that the ‘Letwin amendment’ will pass and derail hopes for today’s vote to be a decisive break in the Brexit process:
“My fear is that the vote that we have will not prove to be meaningful.”
A reminder on the process here. Former Tory cabinet minister Oliver Letwin has tabled an amendment that would withhold formal parliamentary approval for Mr Johnson’s new Brexit deal, forcing the prime minister to seek an extension to the Article 50 exit process.
Unionist MP: Anxiety and anger in Northern Ireland
Sylvia Hermon, an independent unionist MP, said there is “considerable anxiety and indeed anger” in the Northern Irish unionist community.
Her views are significant as they offer an alternative window into unionist thinking from the DUP. She said the prime minister has not “bothered” to reach out to reassure people in Northern Ireland that his deal will not undermine the Good Friday Agreement.
“As a unionist I need to hear a British prime minister making that commitment to the unionist community.”
Boris Johnson said he was committed to the consitutional status of Northern Ireland staying intact.
Jitters building among sterling traders as pivotal vote looms
Katie Martin, FT markets editor, reports:
Financial markets are (thankfully) closed for the weekend, giving traders no capacity to react to the events unfolding in Parliament today. (Those of us who are growing dizzy from the constant oscillation in the value of the pound might see this as a good thing, but we digress).
Markets open for Asian trading on Sunday evening UK time, and they will be chomping at the bit to respond to the vote. In the mean time, nerves are building.
Goldman Sachs, for example, over a week ago either bravely or presciently advised its clients to brace for a positive outcome to talks. It recommended buying sterling with a view to it hitting $1.30 in the event that a deal was secured. (The currency ended the week at $1.2971). Now, the bank says it still expects the deal to pass, so it is sticking with that trade recommendation.
But, it adds that the vote is “likely to be very tight”. Previously its call to buy the pound had a so-called ‘stop loss’ (or giving-up point) of $1.19. Now it has lifted that to $1.26 and recognised that getting into that trade at this point is not a great bet.
“The risk/reward through the vote itself looks poor,” it said. Whatever the outcome of the vote, brace for a choppy start to trading, it added. Good luck, sterling punters.
Full text: Boris Johnson’s statement to parliament
Boris Johnson has urged parliament to pass his Brexit deal, saying it is “urgent for us to move on and build a new relationship with our friends in the EU on the basis of a new deal”. We have uploaded the full text of his remarks.
Philip Hammond suggests he has not decided how to vote
Every vote will count later today if MPs are given a final vote on the deal.
Former chancellor Philip Hammond has suggested he has not made up his mind yet on how to vote:
“Before I decide on whether to jump on the prime minister’s bus I would like to be a little clearer on the destination. I would like to be reassured that it remains the deep and special partnership with the EU that we promised the British people in the 2017 manifesto.”
Johnson faces ambush by Tory grandees
Here is the latest dispatch from George Parker, the FT’s political editor:
Boris Johnson’s promise to deliver a “real Brexit” on October 31 was facing a parliamentary ambush by Conservative grandees on Saturday, with Downing St fearing it could be heading for defeat in a key vote.
Oliver Letwin, former Tory cabinet minister, has tabled an amendment that would withhold formal parliamentary approval for Mr Johnson’s new Brexit deal, forcing the prime minister to seek an extension to the Article 50 exit process.
Mr Johnson’s allies admitted that Sir Oliver, backed by Labour, former Tory cabinet ministers and opposition parties, could win a majority for the move, halting the prime minister’s drive to push quickly ahead to ratify the deal.
If MPs back the amendment, Mr Johnson’s allies said the effect would be to postpone the long-waited showdown Commons vote on the new deal and that Tory MPs would be sent home early on Saturday afternoon.
Instead Mr Johnson would bring forward the Withdrawal Agreement bill to implement the Brexit deal for a Commons second reading vote on Tuesday – meaning that vote would become the “crunch” decision for MPs.
The prime minister, opening the first Saturday sitting of the Commons since the Falklands War in 1982, urged MPs to reject the Letwin amendment and to deliver on the public’s desire to “get Brexit done”.
He said: “This deal provides a way forward. It is a new and better deal for the UK and for our friends in the EU.”
DUP: Read the detail of the deal
The prime minister’s failure to win the support of Northern Ireland’s DUP was a critical blow to his deal and has left today’s vote on a knife-edge.
The DUP’s Nigel Dodds has urged MPs to read the details of the proposals, which he said leaves Northern Ireland de facto inside the EU’s customs arrangements and VAT regime.
He urged Boris Johnson to reconsider.
‘People’s Vote’ demonstration expected today
Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson highlighted the mass demonstrations backing a second referendum expected outside parliament today, and called for the public to have say.
SNP: Prime minister treating Scotland with contempt
The SNP’s Ian Blackford is speaking. His MPs will not support the deal.
Mr Blackford said there was not a single reference to Scotland in the prime minister’s opening statement. He echoes Jeremy Corbyn that the new deal is worse than Theresa May’s – she is in the chamber this morning.
Teeing up a future clash on the union between Scotland and the rest of the UK, Mr Blackford said the deal “shafts” Scotland.
The prime minister chooses to begin his response by congratulating the English rugby team for this morning’s World Cup quarter final win.
He says the deal is great for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Leaders clash on the economy
The two leaders have traded views on what British business wants. We are not learning a great deal.
Mr Corbyn warned of the economic consequences of voting through this vision of Brexit, while the prime minister said a future Labour government is the biggest threat to British businesses.
ERG to MPs: ‘Support Boris Johnson’s deal to completion’
Steve Baker, chair of the European Research Group of Conservative Brexiters, has published the group’s advice to MPs:
1. vote for Boris’s deal in the national interest
2. support the legislation to completion in good faith, provided it is not spoiled by opponents of Brexit
3. vote with Boris throughout to give him maximum opportunity to deliver for our country
Corbyn: Labour ‘will not be duped’
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is now speaking.
Mr Corbyn said the prime minister’s renegotiated deal is worse than Theresa May’s, and criticised the lack of an economic impact assessment.
“These benches will not be duped.”
Mr Corbyn has already confirmed his party will not support the deal, although the votes of some rebel Labour MPs could be critical if there is a vote later on.
Johnson: Little EU appetite for a delay
The prime minister has tackled the possibility of having to ask EU leaders for an extension, without mentioning the ‘Letwin amendment’ specifically.
He said MPs who prefer to avoid a no-deal exit “must abandon a delusion” that parliament can delay again. There is very little appetite in the EU “for this business to be protracted by one extra day,” Mr Johnson said.
“Whatever letter they may seek to force the government to write, it cannot change my judgement that further delay is pointless, expensive, and deeply corrosive to public trust.”
Johnson explains the Brexit deal
The prime minister has outlined the details of his deal to MPs.
Here is the FT’s analysis of what the deal contains.
The “exciting enterprise” of building a new relationship with Europe can begin if MPs pass the deal, Mr Johnson said.
He includes a nod to some MPs concerns over workers’ rights and environmental standards.
“No-one anywhere in this chamber believe in lowering standards,” he said, to loud jeers of disbelief from some opposition MPs.
Johnson added that in any future trade negotiations, with any country, “our NHS will not be on the table”.
Johnson urges MPs to back deal
Boris Johnson says it is “urgent” for Britain to move on from the last three and a half years and heal “the rift in British politics.”
“Now is the time for this great House of Commons to come together and bring the country together today, as I believe people at home are hoping and expecting.”
He praises the EU27 for their flexibility in re-opening the Withdrawal Agreement.
On the wider difficulty of the Brexit process, he said the UK has a “shared destiny” with its European neighbours.
He added that it is because Britain is both “sceptical about the modes of EU integration…but passionate and enthusiastic about Europe that the whole experience of the last three and a half years has been so difficult for this country and so divisive.”
Boris Johnson: I hope we will have a vote
The prime minister is speaking. Making reference to the Letwin amendment which would defer full parliamentary approval of his deal, he said:
“I do hope that in assembling for the purpose of a ‘meaningful vote,’ that we will be allowed to have a ‘meaningful vote.’”
Parliament’s Saturday sitting begins
Speaker John Bercow has begun proceedings. An early groan from some MPs when he confirms the ‘Letwin amendment’ has been selected for debate.
How MPs could vote
The FT has been crunching the numbers on how MPs could vote – if they are given the chance – on the Brexit deal.
On the eve of the poll, our Westminster’s teams calculation gave Boris Johnson a majority of four. Things could have moved since then, of course…
Boris Johnson to speak shortly
Here is a look at today’s House of Commons order paper:
Hammond: Letwin amendment an ‘insurance policy’ against no-deal ‘crash out’
Philip Hammond has said the amendment proposed by Tory grandee Oliver Letwin would serve as an “insurance policy” meant to “remove any risk” of a chaotic no-deal Brexit.
The former UK Chancellor told the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme he backs the measure since it would allow MPs time to consider Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal without the “constant threat of the government to pull the plug and crash us out” of the EU on October 31.
Prime minister Johnson has attempted to frame Saturday’s vote as a binary decision: vote for his deal or face the risk of a damaging no-deal Brexit. But the Letwin amendment could scupper this argument by deferring full parliamentary approval of the pact until the relevant implementing legislation is passed.
There is a high likelihood that the Letwin measure, which also has Labour’s backing, would cast serious doubts on Mr Johnson’s hopes of pulling the UK out of the EU by the October 31 deadline because it would open the measure to further scrutiny from MPs.
Brexit Secretary: Listen to business and back the deal
Stephen Barclay, the Brexit secretary, has urged MPs to listen to business and back the deal. He told Sky News:
The key issue for MPs across all parties today is to listen to the voices of business, the Institute of Directors for example have made it clear it is time to back this deal. The Bank of England governor has said this will be a major boost to the economy.
We have debated these issues endlessly, the PM has secured a great deal, a deal that addresses the central concerns that MPs previously had, it is now time for us to get Brexit done.
The BoE governor Mark Carney yesterday said there were still uncertainties over what the final Brexit outcome would look like. But he said it was beneficial that there would be a transition period if the withdrawal agreement were to be approved by MPs.
ERG chair Steve Baker backs Johnson deal
The FT’s Sebastian Payne reports:
Boris Johnson’s hopes of passing a deal today have been boosted by support from the European Research Group of Conservative Brexiters. The leadership of ERG, including its 28 so-called Spartans, recommended its members support the government in the vote after an early morning meeting in Westminster.
Mark Francois, deputy chair of the ERG, explained his decision to the FT:
“I am not normally accused of being indecisive but I have genuinely agonised over this decision. However, having met the PM twice today I have put my trust in him to take us out of the EU at last.
“I hope my fellow ‘Spartans’, who successfully held the pass back in March, will now come to the same conclusion and back the PM.”
Mr Johnson will need nearly all of the 28 hardline ERG members on board if he has any hope of passing the deal. Downing Street is still expecting 3-5 MPs will hold out against the deal, but one Brexiter minister said “I think we can get everyone there.”
Super Saturday in UK parliament
Today will mark the first time UK parliament has sat on a Saturday since the 1982 Falklands war. Boris Johnson faces what is expected to be a knife-edge vote on pushing through the Brexit deal he negotiated with Brussels this week.
The maths are tight in the first place. But Tory grandee Oliver Letwin has muddied the waters even further by proposing an amendment that would defer full parliamentary approval of Mr Johnson’s deal until the relevant implementing legislation is passed. Mr Johnson would then have to write a letter to the EU seeking a Brexit delay.
The measure has the backing of former cabinet ministers including Philip Hammond and David Gauke as well as Labour’s support.
FT correspondents will be covering all the twists and turns right here on this blog … so stick around for live coverage and let us know what you think in the comments.