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UK PM loses bid to fast-track Brexit bill after winning vote in favor of deal

The U.K. House of Commons rejected Prime Minister Boris Johnson's proposed timetable for Parliament scrutiny for his Brexit bill, prompting him to "pause" the legislation while awaiting the European Union's decision on another Brexit delay.

Lawmakers voted 308 in favor of and 322 against the programme motion filed by Johnson's government, which set the accelerated timetable this week for the Withdrawal Agreement Bill — the implementing legislation for Johnson's new Brexit deal with the EU.

Before the vote on the programme motion, lawmakers voted 329 to 299 to pass the Withdrawal Agreement Bill on second reading and move it to the committee stage, where amendments to the measure can be proposed. That was the first time that Parliament has voted in favor of a Brexit deal since a referendum to leave the European Union in June 2016.

Johnson said following the vote that the U.K. now faces greater Brexit uncertainty, with the Oct. 31 departure date just nine days away.

EU response

"The EU must now make up their minds over how to answer Parliament's request for a delay," Johnson said. "I will speak to EU member states about their intentions. Until they have reached a decision, we will pause this legislation," the prime minister added, noting that he remains opposed to a Brexit extension.

In response, European Council President Donald Tusk said he will recommend to EU leaders to accept the U.K.'s request for a Brexit delay to avert a no-deal departure.

"We should be ready for every scenario," Tusk also said earlier, noting that he has told Johnson the EU will never support a no-deal Brexit.

Johnson told lawmakers earlier on Oct. 22 that he would pull the Withdrawal Agreement Bill if he lost the vote on the programme motion and would seek a general election later this year. However, he made no further mention of early elections after the House of Commons vote.

'Meaningful vote'

Lawmakers' rejection of the programme motion suggests that the government will almost certainly be unable to guarantee that the withdrawal agreement will pass in time to leave the EU on Oct. 31, according to Joe Marshall, a researcher at London-based think tank Institute for Government.

Johnson wanted to rush the Withdrawal Agreement Bill through the House of Commons in three days after only publishing the legislation Oct. 21 and following lawmakers' decision to withhold a meaningful vote on his Brexit deal.

The bill's approval on second reading could indicate that there is parliamentary majority in favor of the Brexit deal, according to Marshall.

However, a second-reading victory does not automatically mean that lawmakers will continue to support the bill in the next parliamentary stages, Marshall said. "There is no guarantee that passing the bill at second reading is a reliable proxy for a 'meaningful vote' on the deal."