LONDON: Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces a Brexit showdown with parliament on Saturday after clinching a last-minute divorce deal with the European Union that his Northern Irish allies oppose.
In an extraordinary Saturday sitting, the first since 1982, parliament will vote on approving Johnson’s deal. Britain is due to leave the EU on October 31.
But Johnson, whose Conservatives have no majority in the 650-seat House of Commons, will face a deeply divided parliament where his opponents are trying to force both a delay to Brexit and another referendum.
Other options include collapsing his government so that others can take control of Brexit negotiations.
WHEN IS PARLIAMENT SITTING?
Parliament will sit from 0830 GMT on Saturday October 19 — the first time since April 3, 1982 when it discussed the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands.
Johnson will make a statement to lawmakers, followed by a 90-minute debate and then voting.
The vote would be intended to meet one part of the criteria for ratifying the exit deal. Legislation would then need to be passed by October 31 in order to complete the ratification.
WHAT IS BEING DISCUSSED?
Johnson said he had agreed a “great” new Brexit deal.
If approved, Johnson can proceed with his plan to leave the EU on October 31. If rejected, he may seek approval to leave the EU without a deal on October 31.
The Democratic Unionist Party said it could not support the deal. The opposition Labour Party, the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats have all said they will oppose it.
If he loses a vote on a deal and does not get approval for no deal, he is required by law to write a letter to the EU requesting more negotiating time, delaying Brexit until January 31, 2020.
The government has said it will both comply with this law and that Britain will leave the EU on October 31 whatever happens. Johnson has not explained how he plans to take these two apparently contradictory steps.
WHAT ABOUT A REFERENDUM?
Lawmakers who disagree with Johnson’s approach to Brexit could use Saturday’s debate to try to secure support for a second referendum on the decision to leave the EU.
They could do this by making an amendment to whatever motion Johnson puts forward and calling a vote on it.
While this would not be a binding commitment to hold a referendum, if a majority of lawmakers backed it, it would be hard to ignore and a big step forward for the long-running campaign for a second vote.
WHAT ARE THE NUMBERS?
The prime minister needs at least 318 votes to be certain of victory in the 650-seat parliament.
This number is less than 326 because seven Irish nationalist Sinn Fein party members do not sit, four speakers do not vote and four ‘tellers’ who help count votes, are not counted (two of the tellers must support the deal and two must be against).