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Brexit in the balance as Johnson faces crunch votes

Updated: 2019-10-22 20:02
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks at the House of Commons as parliament discusses Brexit, sitting on a Saturday for the first time since the 1982 Falklands War, in London, Britain, Oct 19, 2019, in this screen grab taken from video. [Photo/Agencies]

LONDON - Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces two pivotal votes in parliament on Tuesday that will decide if he can deliver on his promise to lead the United Kingdom out of the European Union 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.

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 31 October 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 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, that would make a no-deal Brexit more likely.

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