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Commons speaker facing calls to allow Brexit 'meaningful vote'

Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

By Sam Blewett, PA Political Correspondent, and Harriet Line, PA Deputy Political Editor

John Bercow is facing demands from the Government to allow MPs to have a "meaningful vote" on Boris Johnson's Brexit deal as the Prime Minister fights to fend off new threats to his plans.

All eyes are on the Commons Speaker as he decides whether to allow the vote to take place on Monday amid concerns that he may reject it because of parliamentary rules.

Mr Johnson is also facing a court challenge over his extension request and Labour attempts to secure a customs union and a fresh referendum.

In his latest Commons defeat, Mr Johnson abandoned plans for a meaningful vote on Saturday when MPs backed a move forcing him to ask Brussels for a further delay.

But because the deal had been debated, there are concerns that Mr Bercow could block a vote coming back so soon because of rules over the same matter being discussed twice.

Downing Street said it would pull Monday's vote if any amendments are selected which would "render the vote pointless".

"There is no point having a meaningless vote - the Government would pull the motion. We will go ahead with the introduction of the WAB with second reading tomorrow," the PM's official spokesman said.

"The public want Brexit done - the Government is determined to pass the PM's great new deal and get us out of the EU on October 31."

It came after Chief Secretary to the Treasury Rishi Sunak denied that trying to bring the deal back for a vote was a bid to portray Parliament as being obstructive.

"It was an observation on the deal happening and I think what people need is a substantive vote," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"I think people are crying out to see that and they would find it odd if, because of some technical procedural device, we weren't able to have that vote."

If the Speaker does block the move, focus will switch to the Government bringing its Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) before MPs on Monday, with a vote on its second reading on Tuesday.

The WAB is the legally-binding treaty that must be passed for the UK to leave the bloc, while the Government must also win a meaningful vote.

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay 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."

Ministers insist they could have sufficient support among MPs to get it passed so the UK can depart by the current October 31 deadline.

But, with no Commons majority, Mr Johnson faces a major battle to achieve his cast-iron pledge.

Labour has denied it is trying to scupper the PM's agreement by planning to amend it to secure a customs union and a second referendum as the legislation passes through Parliament.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told Today: "We are not attempting to wreck it, we are attempting to safeguard the British economy, safeguard jobs and safeguard public services.

"We believe that the responsible way in which to leave the European Union is in a customs union arrangement and that, in turn, should be put to the British people so they can have a say on this."

Number 10 is opposed to a customs union and second referendum, and warned that if the legislation in the Commons "steps too far away" from what has been agreed with the EU then it would "bring into question ratification".

Meanwhile, judges are set to decide whether the unsigned letter sent by the PM asking for a Brexit extension from the EU complied with the Benn Act, or if he is in contempt of court.

Mr Johnson was forced to send the letter under the law passed by MPs trying to fend off a no-deal Brexit because MPs did not support his deal by the Saturday deadline.

But he signed a second letter and said a delay would be a mistake and judges at the Court of Session in Edinburgh are to resume a hearing on Monday.

The letters were sent after former Tory minister Sir Oliver Letwin handed Mr Johnson an embarrassing defeat in the Commons.

Sir Oliver, who was among the rebels exiled by Mr Johnson over their attempts to stop a no-deal, successfully tabled an amendment which effectively forced the PM to ask for a delay.

As Parliament demanded in the Benn Act, Mr Johnson wrote to European Council president Donald Tusk requesting an extension to the end of January.

The PM did not sign the letter, and sent a second communication insisting that a delay would be "deeply corrosive" for the UK and the EU.

Labour accused Mr Johnson of behaving like a "spoiled brat".

Meanwhile, the EU's process for ratifying the Brexit deal has begun, European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said.

She said the ratification process has been launched on the EU side, with Michel Barnier having already debriefed EU ambassadors ahead of debriefing the European Parliament Brexit steering group on Monday afternoon in Strasbourg.

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