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Brexit in the balance as Johnson faces crunch votes

Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces two pivotal votes in parliament on Tuesday that will decide whether he can deliver on his promise to lead the United Kingdom out of the EU in nine days’ time.

As the clock ticks down to the latest Oct. 31 deadline for Britain’s departure, Brexit is hanging in the balance as a divided parliament debates when, how and even whether it should happen.

After he was forced by opponents into the humiliation of asking the EU for a delay that he had vowed he would never seek, Johnson is battling to ram legislation through the House of Commons that will enact his last-minute Brexit deal.

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In yet another day of high drama, lawmakers vote at around 1800 GMT on the 115-page Withdrawal Agreement Bill and then vote on the government’s extremely tight timetable for approving the legislation.

“I hope parliament today votes to take back control for itself,” said Johnson, the face of the successful 2016 referendum campaign to leave the EU.

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

Defeat in either vote would scupper Johnson’s plans to leave the EU with or without a divorce deal on Oct. 31.

He would have to decide whether to abide by a law that demands he accept any Brexit delay offered by the EU or somehow leave without a deal.

Victory, an imperfect indicator of support for Johnson’s deal, would give opponents in parliament another chance to ambush the government with amendments that could wreck Johnson’s plans by demanding a much closer post-Brexit relationship with the EU.

The pound was flat at 1.2946 dollars in London trading.

Foreign exchange markets now price in Britain either leaving with a deal or delaying Brexit, or possibly both.

Johnson’s spokesman said that if parliament voted down the legislative timetable, then it would make no-deal Brexit more likely.

“Voting down the programme motion risks handing control over the situation to the EU and therefore making no deal more likely,” he said.

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More than three years since the United Kingdom voted 52 per cent to 48 per cent to leave the EU, the Brexit crisis is straining Britain’s political and constitution system to the breaking point.

Johnson confounded his opponents by winning a Brexit deal from the EU on Thursday, though he was forced by his opponents – reluctantly and with a mere unsigned photocopy – to ask for a Brexit delay on Saturday.

But House of Commons speaker John Bercow refused a vote on his deal on Monday.

If Johnson is defeated on Tuesday, much will depend on how the EU plays yet another Brexit quandary.

European Council President Donald Tusk said he was discussing the request for a Brexit delay with the leaders of the other 27 member states and would make a decision “in the coming days”.

“I have no doubt that we should treat the British request for an extension in all seriousness,” Tusk told lawmakers in the Strasbourg assembly of the European Union parliament.

“A no-deal Brexit will never be our decision,” he said to applause from lawmakers.

In a sign of the frustration in Brussels, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Brexit was a waste of time and energy, and that the European Parliament could only approve Johnson’s deal after the British parliament. (Reuters/NAN)

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