Boris Johnson faced Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, addressing MPs following last night’s drama in the House of Commons.
Answering questions from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, he refused to be drawn on whether more time would be allocated to consider the Brexit bill — and repeated that the UK should still leave the EU on October 31.
The prime minister “paused” the Withdrawal Agreement Bill following defeat for the government on Tuesday, which dealt a major blow to its drive to pull the UK out of the EU at Halloween.
Lawmakers approved in principle the government’s bill to implement the newly negotiated divorce deal — but rejected the government’s fast-track timetable to push it through parliament.
Many felt far more time was needed to scrutinise measures that may determine the UK’s relations with Europe for years to come.
Another Brexit delay now looks highly likely. European Council President is recommending that the EU27 countries accept the UK’s request for an extension.
Boris Johnson told the Commons that he was awaiting the EU’s response to the request — which he said had been forced upon him by parliament.
Boris Johnson called on the opposition leader to explain how he would deliver Brexit. “There is still time for (Corbyn)… to do that and explain to the people of this country how he proposes to honour his promise that he made repeatedly and deliver on the will of the people and get Brexit done,” the prime minister told parliament.
Pressed on the parliamentary timetable by Ken Clarke — one of the Tory rebels expelled from the ruling party for defying the government over Brexit — the prime minister said the government was awaiting the outcome of the EU’s decision on a possible Brexit delay.
“I believe it is still very much in the best interests of this country and of democracy to get Brexit done by October 31,” Johnson said.
He told MPs that he was “delighted” the House of Commons had voted in favour of the deal, but regretted that MPs had “voted to delay Brexit again”. In rejecting the timetable they had “willed the end but not the means”.
It has emerged that the prime minister met the Labour leader earlier in the day — but the meeting is said to have ended without agreement on a new legislative timetable for the Brexit bill.
Jeremy Corbyn reiterated his offer to Boris Johnson to agree a “reasonable timetable” to pass Brexit legislation, a Labour party spokesman said, according to Reuters.
The spokesman said Corbyn also repeated Labour’s position that it would only back a general election once a no-deal Brexit was taken off the table.
But a Conservative source told Reuters that “Corbyn made clear he has no policy except more delays and to spend 2020 having referendums”.
Read more: EU leaders ponder another Brexit delay
Also in the House of Commons, the prime minister was asked about planned arrangements for Northern Ireland following concern over a customs and regulatory border in the Irish Sea.
Johnson insisted the the United Kingdom would be “preserved whole and entire” by the arrangements. “There will be no checks between Northern Ireland and GB, and there will be no tariffs… between Northern Ireland and GB because we have protected the customs union,” he replied.
Under the new protocol in the UK-EU divorce deal, Northern Ireland would leave the EU’s customs union with the rest of the UK, which wants to pursue an independent trade policy. But in practice it would follow EU customs rules and remain aligned with some aspects of the EU’s single market.
Although no additional tariffs or checks are envisaged on goods moving from Northern Ireland to Britain, this is not the case for goods travelling in the opposite direction.
The government’s Impact Assessment of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill says that for goods going from Britain into Northern Ireland, tariffs may be payable — and details several cases where checks will be