Boris Johnson announced a Brexit deal has finally been reached with Brussels earlier on Thursday. However Hilary Benn, who championed the so-called Benn Act, said he will not vote for Mr Johnson’s deal. Speaking about his decision on Sky News, correspondent Kate McCann asked: “On that point of a no deal, the purpose of the Act was to avoid that happening, Boris Johnson has said today there is a deal, there potentially is a deal or a no deal vote on Saturday.
“In fact Jean-Claude Juncker has made clear that there is no mood for an extension to prolong these talks, there is a deal on the table that they are happy with. I mean, surely you would want to vote for a deal rather than have a no deal Brexit?”
The Labour MP began: “Well the first thing to say is any decision about an extension is not in the hands of Jean-Claude Juncker.”
Ms McCann interjected: “But it’s a pretty clear indication of the mood in Europe isn’t it, that they are not in the mood for an extension.”
Mr Benn replied: “Well we will have to wait and see because the decision in the end that will face the EU, if the deal is defeated in the House of Commons on Saturday, and then it gets a request because the Prime Minister has to write a letter. Is the EU going to say ‘sorry, time’s up, over the cliff you go.’”
Ms McCann appeared to sound confused as she questioned: “So you are willing to risk a no deal Brexit on the fact the European Union may agree to an extension, despite the tone coming out of Brussels?”
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Mr Benn explained: “No absolutely not, because the House of Commons has very clearly said it is against a no deal Brexit, that’s why we passed the legislation, to require the Prime Minister to seek an extension.
“Now I accept if the deal is defeated on Saturday responsibility comes back to Parliament, so what do we do now? Because we can’t keep delaying things, and that is why there is a growing number of MPs who would say ‘look there is a way to resolve this that will give us a decision’.
“Because then the British public would vote one way or another, to accept the deal that Boris Johnson thinks is a good deal and I don’t, or to vote for Remain and in those circumstances, if the EU knew that we were going to have a confirmatory referendum they absolutely would grant time for that to take place.”
The Benn Act, which received Royal Assent on September 9, requires Mr Johnson to request an extension to Article 50 if no deal is struck at the summit, which starts today. However, strategists have pointed out since European law currently takes precedence over British law, it may be possible to prevent them granting a delay.
If all 28 leaders of the bloc signed up for a declaration stating there was no need for an extension because talks were ongoing, the Benn Act could be circumvented – in theory at least. Meanwhile in Brussels, the deal has been welcomed by most EU leaders who now prepare to go through the process of ratifying the legal text.
The Prime Minister now faces an uphill struggle to get the last-minute Brexit deal he struck with the EU through the Commons. Key Tory ally the DUP stood firm over its objections to the Government’s Brexit stance.
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With the Commons expected to sit on Saturday to go over the deal, the first weekend session of Parliament for 37 years, the DUP insisted it still could not yet back the Government’s EU withdrawal plans.
The stance of the DUP is important because the party wields influence over some hardline Tory Brexiteers and Mr Johnson is far short of a majority in Parliament.
Arriving at the EU summit, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “As things stand we have a draft agreement between the European Union on one the hand and the British Government on the other.
“I think it is a good agreement. It allows the United Kingdom to leave the European Union in an orderly fashion with a transition period which is very important for businesses and citizens across the European Union and also in the UK.
“And also creates a unique solution for Northern Ireland recognising the unique history and geography of Northern Ireland, one that ensures no hard border between north and south, one which allows the all-Ireland economy to continue to develop and one which protects the European single market and our place in it.”
“So I will be in a position to recommend to the European Council today that the agreement be endorsed.”
Incoming European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen welcomed the agreed Brexit deal, claiming she was happy about the results of negotiations but sad to see the UK leave the bloc.