Boris Johnson pleads with MPs to get behind his Brexit bill

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Boris Johnson today dramatically threatened to pull the Brexit Bill and demand a snap election if MPs block efforts to get his deal through quickly in two crunch votes tonight.

The PM is facing two massive showdowns in the Commons tonight, one over his deal itself and another to get MPs to agree the 72-hour timetable he has set out to push it through.

Aides are increasingly hopeful he can get approval for his deal in principle, but he is struggling to gather the numbers to endorse an incredibly tight timetable - necessary so he can honour his 'do or die' vow to get out of the EU by October 31.

The PM pleaded with MPs to 'move our country forward' as he kicked off a bad-tempered debate.

But in a stark message to waverers, Mr Johnson said rejection of the programme motion - which sets out the schedule - would mean the legislation being abandoned.

Instead he will demand Jeremy Corbyn agrees to hold an election before Christmas to resolve the issue crippling Westminster. 

'I will in no way allow months more of this... If parliament refuses to allow Brexit to happen and instead gets its way and decides to delay everything until January or possibly longer, In no circumstances can the government continue with this. 

'With great regret I must say the Bill will have to be pulled and we will have to go forward to a general election, In no circumstances can the government continue with this. 

'With great regret I must say the Bill will have to be pulled and we will have to go forward to a general election.

Tonight's two key votes 

The PM is facing two massive showdowns in the Commons tonight - one over his deal itself and another to get MPs to agree the 72-hour timetable he has set out to push it through.

Second reading: The first big vote on the Brexit legislation, expected at around 7pm.

MPs will be asked to approve the Bill in principle, so it can go forward for detailed scrutiny.

If the text is rejected at this point, it is effectively dead. 

But Number 10 is confident it now has the numbers for approval after a mix of Labour moderates, ex-Tory rebels and the vast majority of the so-called Tory Spartans, who voted against Theresa May's deal three times, indicated they will back the plan in the past few days. 

Programme motion: The crucial vote. The government is trying to set a tight timetable so the law can be rushed through to meet Boris Johnson's 'do or die' Brexit date of October 31. 

This vote asks MPs to approve a 72-hour timetable to push it through by next week. 

Many are complaining that it does not give enough time to scrutinise the Bill and Jeremy Corbyn and other opposition leaders are expected to order their MPs to reject Mr Johnson's incredibly tight timetable.

If the government loses it will make the PM's Halloween deadline almost impossible to meet. The PM has now threatened to pull the Bill entirely if MPs vote his timetable down - throwing the focus on the EU to confirm whether it will accept a Brexit delay until the new year, and piling pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to accept his challenge to a general election before Christmas.   

'I will argue at that election let's get Brexit done and the leader of the opposition will make his case to spend 2020 having two referendums: one on Brexit and one Scotland. The people will decide.' 

No10 has been increasingly optimistic that the numbers are in place to win the first big vote on the legislation tonight, known as the second reading. 

But securing the so-callled programme motion is looking like a big ask, with MPs voicing fury at 'appalling' efforts to rush the laws through. 

Critically for Mr Johnson, former Tory rebels including Rory Stewart and Ken Clarke have indicated they intend to go against the government. Others such as Sir Oliver Letwin have made clear they will support it, and a handful of Labour MPs will be on board  - leaving the result on a knife edge,

Remainer MPs hope that if they drag their heels the EU will agree to delay the date for months. 

Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg upped the stakes earlier by warning that 'a vote against the programme motion is a vote against Brexit', 

The tough talk looked to backfire with some MPs. Former Tory MP Ed Vaizey responded on Twitter: 'Oh dear. Any more ludicrous tweets like this and I may change my mind and vote against the programme motion.'

The simplest way of staging an early election is to pass a motion with two-thirds support in the Commons. Mr Johnson has failed twice to reach the mark.

But Mr Corbyn has previously promised to support an early poll if there is an extension agreed with the EU to remove the immediate threat of No Deal. 

Even if Mr Johnson survives the 'Titanic Tuesday' votes tonight, the government is desperately struggling to fend off amendments that would keep the UK in the EU's customs union or force a referendum 

In a fresh threat this morning, former Tory MP Nick Boles has tabled a change that would prolong the transition period by two years unless Parliament gives explicit approval for it to end in 2021. 

That could prove unacceptable to Eurosceptics and splinter the fragile coalition Mr Johnson has created for his deal. 

A spokesman for the PM would not comment on whether he would pull the Bill if a customs union was added, although No10 suggested yesterday that the process will be at risk. 

Boris Johnson renewed his call to 'get Brexit done' as he fired the starting gun on a 72-hour dash to get the crucial legislation through

In a rallying cry to get the Brexit deal over the line, Mr Johnson told the House: 'For three-and-a-half years this Parliament has been caught in a deadlock of its own making, and the truth is that all of us bear a measure of responsibility for that outcome.

'And yet by the same token, we all bear a share of responsibility, we all have the same opportunity now.

'The escape route is visible, the prize is visible before us, a new beginning with our friends and partners, a new beginning for a global, self-confident, outward-looking country that can do free trade deals around the world as one whole entire United Kingdom.

'The deal is here on the table, the legislation to deliver it is here before us.

'A clear majority in the country is now imploring us to get Brexit done in this House of Commons, and I say to this House, let us therefore do it, and let us do it now and tonight.'

What happens next in the Brexit crisis? 

Tuesday: Potentially the most critical day for the Brexit deal. Debate on the WA legislation will begin in the Commons, with crucial second reading votes expected in the evening.

If the Bill is torpedoed at this point, the Brexit process will be back to square one. 

The programme motion will also need to be approved, setting out the timetable for legislation being passed, if Mr Johnson is to have much chance of getting Brexit through for October 31.  

Wednesday-Thursday: Assuming the second reading is successful, detailed scrutiny will be carried out in the Commons and the Lords. 

There will be knife-edge votes on amendments calling for customs union membership and a second referendum.

All being well, final approval should be given at third reading on Thursday night.

Friday-Sunday: The Bill moves to the Lords where another fight for surpremacy beckons between the government and Remainers. 

October 28: The EU has suggested an emergency summit could be held on this date to consider a Brexit extension if the deal has not gone through Parliament.  

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn completely ignored the issue of an election in his response to the PM.

'We warned on Saturday that if the House passes the Government's deal, it'd be a disaster for our country,' he said.

'Now, as we look through the details of the Bill, we see just how right we were.

'Page after page of what amounts to nothing less than a charter for deregulation and a race to the bottom.

'A deal and a Bill that fails to protect our rights and our natural world, fails to protect jobs and the economy, fails to protect every region and every nation in the United Kingdom.

'This Bill confirms Northern Ireland is really in the customs union of the EU and goods will be subjected to tariffs.'

Shadow chancellor and Labour MP John McDonnell tweeted: 'Johnson threatening a general election because Parliament might want a few more days to scrutinise his Withdrawal Bill. Pathetic. What has he got to hide?' 

Labour MPs representing Leave constituencies have indicated they will support the Withdrawal Agreement Bill at second reading.

Wigan MP Lisa Nandy and Ashfield MP Gloria De Piero said they would support the Bill at second reading in order to be able to amend it at committee stage.

Intervening during the Labour leader's speech, Ms Nandy said: 'For many people back home in towns like Wigan this is an article of faith in the Labour Party.'

Ms De Piero added: 'I am also minded to vote in favour of a second reading, not because I support that deal but because I don't. And I want to improve the deal so it reflects the manifesto that I stood on to respect the result of that referendum.'

Responding to Ms De Piero, Mr Corbyn said: 'I hope that she will understand why I believe this Bill should not be given a second reading, but I'm also sure she will agree with me that to get this Bill to debate less than 17 hours after it was published is a totally unreasonable way of treating Parliament and I hope she will also join in the lobby this evening in opposing the programme motion on this particular Bill.'

How can Boris Johnson force an early general election?

There are two ways in which the UK could end up having a general election before the end of 2019. 

Both are set out in the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. 

The first is that a Commons vote is held on a motion that simply states: 'That there shall be an early parliamentary general election.'

In order to pass, that motion must be backed by at least two thirds of MPs. 

Boris Johnson has tried to trigger an election in this way on two previous occasions but he failed on both attempts as opposition MPs refused to back a snap poll. 

The second route to an election is if the government was toppled in a vote of no confidence. 

There would then follow a 14 day period in which another government could try to be formed. 

If no new government could command the support of a Commons majority by the close of that period then an early election would be automatically triggered.  

Opposition leaders have said that once a No Deal Brexit has been ruled out they would back an election which means the first route is the more likely of the two should the EU agree to a delay.

Overnight Mr Johnson appealed to MPs to back his deal 'so that we can leave without disruption and provide a framework for a new relationship based on free trade and friendly co-operation'.

The PM said: 'I hope Parliament votes to take back control for itself and the British people and the country can start to focus on the cost of living, the NHS, and conserving our environment. 

'The public doesn't want any more delays, neither do other European leaders and neither do I. Let's get Brexit done on October 31 and move on.'

Government sources said there was a 'good chance' the deal would pass its first Commons hurdle today when MPs vote on whether they support it in principle. 

But there is a growing revolt over Mr Johnson's plans to push the deal through quickly to meet his 'do or die' pledge to leave by October 31.

Opening a new front, Mr Boles tweeted that he had tabled an amendment 'to require the government by default to seek an extension of the transition to Dec 2022 unless MPs pass a resolution to the contrary'. 

'We must stop No Deal Brexit in Dec 2020,' he added. 

Mr Rees-Mogg stunned MPs last night by announcing a 72-hour timetable for pushing the 110-page Withdrawal Agreement Bill, which will put the deal into law, through the Commons.

Along with the Government's publication of the bill, No. 10 released a promotional video on its Twitter page accompanied by dramatic music and a montage of images.

It said: 'Our new deal with the EU means we can leave on October 31. Take back control of our laws, borders and money .. This new deal will allow us to move on and focus on the people's priorities.'

But there are aspects of the Brexit deal which will raise eyebrows among staunch Leavers, including:

A provision that will see the country still subject to the rulings of judges at the European Court of Justice during the transition period, scheduled to last until January 2021; Commitments for the Commons to have votes on whether to follow suit every time the EU introduces new employment rights; Promises for ministers to consult trade unions on all new laws that impact workers' rights;  Explanatory notes published with the Bill reveal ministers expect a new organisation to monitor the rights of EU citizens in the UK will cost £146million over ten years.

MPs will vote on the programme motion just after 7pm tonight. If ministers are defeated, the Government would lose control of the timetable, meaning there would be almost no chance of getting the law passed by October 31.

Former Tory chief whip Mark Harper said anyone voting against the timetable would be trying to wreck Brexit, adding: 'They cannot hide in plain sight. They will be frustrating Brexit and this House's ability to deliver on the EU referendum result.'

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay yesterday called on MPs to 'respect the referendum' by backing the Bill, warning them: 'This is the chance to leave the EU with a deal on October 31.'

The DUP says it will vote against the deal in protest at proposals for requiring customs checks on goods travelling to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

But the vast majority of the so-called Tory Spartans, who voted against Theresa May's deal three times, have indicated they will back the plan.

And ministers believe up to a dozen Labour MPs from pro-Leave seats could now back it under pressure from their constituents.

However, they fear that the loss of the timetable motion could allow MPs to string out approval of the legislation for weeks, potentially forcing Mr Johnson to accept a Brexit extension from the EU he has vowed to resist.

No10 strategist Dominic Cummings appeared in high spirits as he arrived for work today

No10 strategist Dominic Cummings appeared in high spirits as he arrived for work today

The WAB runs to 110 pages and is accompanied by 124 pages of explanatory notes

The WAB runs to 110 pages and is accompanied by 124 pages of explanatory notes

Under the provisions of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act (CRAG), an international treaty - such as the Brexit deal - must be laid before Parliament for at least 21 sitting days before ratification to take place.

However in order for the Government's timetable to be met, there is a provision in the WAB which 'disapplies' the relevant section of the CRAG. 

MPs have complained that the short time frame to debate the Prime Minister's new Brexit deal avoids proper scrutiny. 

After the

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