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Huge anti-Brexit crowds marched near Parliament in London on Saturday.CreditAndrew Testa for The New York Times
Lawmakers threw a wrench into Boris Johnson’s strategy.
British lawmakers on Saturday scuttled Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s carefully choreographed plan to push his Brexit deal through a special Saturday session of Parliament.
They voted 322-306 in favor of an amendment that puts off the moment of decision until they have had more time to scrutinize his plan.
It was the latest twist in a debate that has convulsed the country for three anguished years, ever since the British public voted in 2016 for a divorce from the European Union.
The move to postpone the crucial Brexit vote on Saturday muddled Mr. Johnson’s path to a Brexit deal, though it also could end up increasing the chance that some moderate lawmakers will vote for his deal down the road.
The whiplash developments mean he is legally obliged to seek yet another extension for Britain’s departure from the European Union, which he had vowed never to do.
In fact, after the vote on the amendment, Mr. Johnson declared, “I will not negotiate a delay with the E.U.,” he said, “and neither does the law compel me to do so.”
“I wish the House to know I’m not daunted or dismayed by this particular result,” the prime minister added. “I will tell our friends and colleagues in the E.U. exactly what I’ve told everyone in the last 88 days: that further delay would be bad for this country, bad for the European Union and bad for democracy.”
Scottish Nat. Party
Scottish Nat. Party
Crowds of anti-Brexit marchers in Parliament Square erupted in cheers and applause at the news that the amendment had passed.
The amendment essentially turned Mr. Johnson’s up-or-down vote on his deal into a weaker one, saying only that “this House has considered the matter but withholds approval unless and until implementing legislation is passed.”
Lawmakers were worried that, were they to approve Mr. Johnson’s deal on Saturday, hard-line Brexiteer lawmakers would delay passing accompanying legislation next week, pushing Britain out of the European Union without a deal on Oct. 31.
The passage of the amendment means that Mr. Johnson is forced by law to send a letter to the European Union on Saturday night saying that, because he could not pass his deal in time in Britain’s Parliament, he needed an extension.
The amendment came from a member of Boris Johnson’s party.
Even lawmakers who support Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal didn’t trust him or his hard-line Brexit backers, fearing that they might pull a procedural trick to force Britain to crash out of the European Union without a deal.
They also worried that Parliament could approve Mr. Johnson’s deal on Saturday, absolving the prime minister of any obligation to delay the Brexit deadline.
So a former Conservative lawmaker, Oliver Letwin, whom Mr. Johnson had kicked out of the party, put forward an amendment as sort of insurance policy to make approval of the deal conditional on also passing necessary legislation.
In essence, the so-called Letwin Amendment, which the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, selected for a vote, aimed to turn Parliament’s up-or-down vote on Mr. Johnson’s deal into a much weaker motion.
It means that Saturday was not the day that lawmakers would fully endorse or reject the Brexit deal.
Now that the amendment has passed, lawmakers get to not only cast a definitive vote on Mr. Johnson’s deal, but also to debate, amend and vote on legislation putting that deal into law.
The Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, which stridently objects to Mr. Johnson’s deal, earlier signaled that it would vote for the Letwin amendment. Sammy Wilson, a Democratic Unionist lawmaker, said that “we would be failing in our duty” if the party did not try to force changes to the Brexit deal.
On a high-wire day in British politics, a crucial question now is how the government will respond to the upending of Mr. Johnson’s plan.
British news outlets reported that the government could put forward the legislation accompanying Mr. Johnson’s deal as soon as Monday or Tuesday and push for a quick vote then.
And Saturday afternoon, Jacob Rees-Mogg, a hard-line Conservative Brexiteer, announced in the Commons that the government would bring back another “meaningful” vote on Monday.
The Brexit deadline still looms. Here’s what’s next.
The defeat means that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is legally obliged by 11 p.m. Saturday local time to request another delay to Brexit until Jan 31, 2020, from Brussels.
Mr. Johnson was careful to choose his words carefully, saying that he would not “negotiate” a delay but not that his office would refuse to send the required letter.
That seemed to open a path to Mr. Johnson or someone else in the government signing the required letter, but with the prime minister’s refusing to put his weight behind the request and telling European leaders that he did not want it.
After his comments, Downing Street refused to clarify what the prime minister meant.
The developments place the leaders of he European Union in a tricky position, since they do not want a potentially damaging no-deal departure, but will want Britain to justify any further extension. All member countries of the bloc will have to agree on the delay.
By the time they consider a request, however, Parliament will most likely have had more votes on Brexit because Mr. Johnson said he would press on with legislation needed to effect his plan next week.
When the legislation comes to Parliament, that will also provide an opportunity for its opponents to try to amendment the plan. So next week may, or may not, provide more clarity.
Boris Johnson made the pitch of his life to Parliament.
In what commentators called the biggest speech of his political career, Prime Minister Boris Johnson argued strenuously in the House of Commons on Saturday that his deal was the best available Brexit deal and that Britain could not waste another day in extracting itself from the European Union.
“Now is the time for this great House of Commons to come together,” he said before the vote on the amendment. Amid shouts from the opposition benches, he added that any further delay to Brexit would be “pointless, expensive and deeply corrosive of public trust.”
Mr. Johnson cast his deal as a fulfillment of decades of conflict in Britain over its place in the European Union. He said it would allow the entire country to benefit from future trade deals and avoid a dreaded hard border on the island of Ireland.
Mr. Johnson’s odds were complicated by the fact that he does not have a working majority in Parliament and has not won a major vote there in the three months he has been in office.
Many of the lawmakers he needs to back his deal include the 21 members of Parliament he purged from the Conservative Party after they voted for a measure to prevent Britain from leaving the European Union without a deal.
His allies in Northern Ireland, 10 lawmakers from the Democratic Unionist Party, flatly rejected his Brexit deal, accusing Mr. Johnson of selling the territory short by accepting checks on some goods passing through Northern Ireland to get a deal.
Theresa May made the case for a deal similar to hers.
In a striking moment on Saturday afternoon, as the debate dragged on before the vote, Theresa May, Boris Johnson’s predecessor as prime minister, stood up and give an impassioned speech in the House of Commons.
“Standing here, I have a distinct sense of déjà vu,” Mrs. May said to knowing laughter, given that her deal had been rejected in the same chamber three times.
For Mrs. May, it was a dramatic intervention, given that she was showing support for Mr. Johnson, who had often not supported her.
She said it was time for Parliament to vote for a deal on Brexit, having promised to abide by the democratic will of the people.
“If the Parliament did not mean it, then it is guilty of the most egregious con trick on the British people,” Mrs. May said. “You cannot have a second referendum simply because you don’t agree with the results of the first.”
“If you don’t want ‘no deal,’” she declared, “you have to vote for a deal.”
Cheers erupted at from the backbenchers the end of her speech.
It was the most visible appearance by Mrs. May in the nation’s Brexit debate since she stepped down from her job and relinquished leadership of the Conservative Party in the wake of her own stinging defeats.
But it also put her in an awkward position. During her negotiations with Brussels, Mrs. May said that no British prime minister could accept a deal that would keep Northern Ireland in the European Union’s customs territory.
Although Northern Ireland would remain in the United Kingdom’s customs territory under Mr. Johnson’s deal, the arrangement would impose the same customs checks between Britain and Northern Ireland that Mrs. May once ruled out.
The Labour leader urged a resounding ‘no.’
Jeremy Corbyn, Britain’s left-wing opposition leader, who spoke after Prime Minister Boris Johnson but before Theresa May in the Commons on Saturday, earlier urged lawmakers to vote against the deal.
“This deal is not good for jobs, damaging to our industry and a threat to our environment and our natural world,” he said. “It should be voted down today by this House.”
He argued that the deal was worse than the agreement reached by Mr. Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May.
“We simply cannot vote for a deal that is even worse than the House rejected three times,” he said.
Mr. Corbyn argued that the new deal would cost every citizen in the country, on average, more than $2,500 and would lead to “a race to the bottom in regulation and standards.”
Huge crowds marched in London to demand a final say.
Huge crowds of protesters streamed to Westminster on Saturday in a march to demand another referendum on Brexit — a show of defiance as British lawmakers voted on the deal outlining the nation’s exit from the European Union.
Organizers of the People’s Vote march said they had drawn about one million people, which would make it one of the largest demonstrations on record in Britain.
“We are now reaching a crucial moment in the Brexit crisis,” the organizers said in a statement. “The government has adopted the slogan ‘Get Brexit Done’ to try and browbeat an exhausted public into accepting whatever botched Brexit Boris Johnson presents to them, but we know this slogan is a lie.”
Outside Westminster on Saturday, Milou de Castellane, 52, who works as a nanny in London, said she had voted to remain in the European Union and would like to have a second referendum or to remain in Europe.
Before the parliamentary vote on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s deal, she said: “I hope that the deal will not pass, but I have a sinking feeling that it might. But it cannot just be a rabbit-out-of-a hat scenario. We have to know what is in the deal.”
Three 16-year-olds who attend school together in Oxford descended on Parliament Square on Saturday before the vote.
“We came here today because we want to let our voices be heard; we have not been able to do it any other way,” said Anoushka Nairac, a student at Magdalen College School in Oxford. She added that “we have been living with the consequences” of the referendum.
“My father is an immigrant who set up his own company and provided jobs for citizens,” she said. “It makes me annoyed; people are not looking at the facts.”
She added: “The deal is appalling. They have taken Theresa May’s deal and wrapped it in new packaging. The deal is uncaring about E.U. citizens and the Northern Ireland border. ”
Michelle and Mike Megan, both 60, have been coming from Newbury to protest outside Westminster for a few days each week since January.
Ms. Megan said: “As a leave voter, we are here to counteract the people’s vote to remain in the E.U. Remainers are asking for a people’s vote, but the people already voted in 2016. We were told it was a once-in-a-generation referendum.”
Ms. Megan added: “So far, Boris Johnson has done a good job. I would never have called myself a Boris fan, but he is now our only hope of getting Brexit done. He has his faults, but so do great leaders in the past.”
When news of the vote on the amendment spread, marchers like Aleksandr Pessina, who says she has Italian and Russian heritage and works as a software engineer, called it “a great victory for democracy.”
She added that it would allow “more time for people to think it through, and it might eventually lead to the rejection of Brexit altogether.”
Reporting was contributed by Stephen Castle, Mark Landler, Ben Mueller, Marc Santora, Anna Schaverien, Claire Moses, Alan Yuhas and Megan Specia.
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