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Boris Johnson’s Brexit bill in limbo as lawmakers reject fast-track timetable

Britain’s Boris Johnson was momentarily buoyed Tuesday night after lawmakers voted to back a Brexit bill for the first time since the UK decided to break away from the European Union three years ago.

But any sense of breakthrough for the Prime Minister was blown apart just minutes later, when lawmakers rejected a tight timeline to ram the legislation through Parliament forcing Johnson to again put his vision for Britain’s departure from the EU on hold.

Still, he seemed undeterred, claiming the vote as a victory in principle.

“Just a few weeks ago, hardly anybody believed that we could reopen the Withdrawal Agreement, let alone abolish the backstop … and certainly nobody thought that we could secure the approval of the House for a new deal,” Johnson said on his feet, addressing the House of Commons after the vote loss. “We should not overlook the significance of this moment.”

Members of Parliament voted by 322 votes to 308 to reject Johnson’s controversial timetable for making the bill law, formally known as the program motion, moments after supporting the government’s 110-page Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB), the piece of legislation that will enact Johnson’s deal.

After the defeat, Johnson expressed his disappointment that lawmakers voted against the schedule that would have allowed him to deliver on his “do or die” promise to pull Britain out of the EU by the current October 31 deadline — which is now just a little over a week away.

And he suggested that the government “must accelerate preparations for a no-deal outcome” while it waits to see if the EU will grant an extension to Britain’s departure from the bloc. “The EU must now make up their minds on Parliament’s request,” Johnson said, adding he would “pause” the legislation until the EU delivered its decision.

Reacting to Johnson’s decision to pause the ratification process, and in order to avoid a no-deal Brexit, EU Council President Donald Tusk said that he “will recommend the EU27 accept the UK request for an extension,” in a post on Twitter.

The UK has requested an extension until the end of January 2020.

Opposition lawmakers have welcomed the additional time to review the lengthy bill, which was published late Monday.

After the vote, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn called on the government to “work with us all of us to agree a reasonable timetable” for the House of Commons to debate, scrutinize and amend this deal.

Earlier in the day, Johnson had warned that he would pull the bill altogether and push for a general election, if MPs attempted to derail the government’s legislative timetable.

But that threat never came to pass and lawmakers slammed the bluff as an attempt to sweep the deal through Parliament without scrutiny.

“Johnson’s attempt to bounce a bad deal through Parliament without proper scrutiny has been rejected,” Labour Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell tweeted.

Opposition lawmakers have twice rejected the Prime Minister’s efforts to force a snap general election, calling for no-deal Brexit to be taken off the table first.

But Johnson may feel the calculus for a public vote has shifted since Saturday, when he was forced to request a Brexit extension from the EU — something he said repeatedly he’d “rather be dead in a ditch” than consent to.

If the extension is granted, which looked likely Tuesday night, and it was long enough for the nation to hold an election, then it’s full steam ahead with the campaign.

And Johnson’s seemed to be testing out his Brexit ballot box message in the chamber Tuesday night, saying: “Are honorable members really going to tell their constituents that at the last minute, they handed the decision to Brussels? Let’s get Brexit done!”