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Boris Johnson puts Brexit bill on hold

Game of two halves: Boris Johnson during a night of mixed fortunes at Westminster PICTURE: HOC/JESSICA TAYLOR

BORIS JOHNSON was last night left clinging by his fingertips to his ‘do or die’ vow for an October 31 Brexit after MPs threw out his breakneck timetable.

MPs voted by 329 to 299 to support the Withdrawal Agreement Bill in principle — the first time a departure deal had secured the support of the House. But they then voted by 322 to 308 to reject his plan to try to get it through the Commons in three days.

It meant the PM would not be able to get the deal done in time for the UK to leave with it on Halloween. He said he would ‘pause’ the bill and ask the EU how it wanted to proceed.

And European Council president Donald Tusk said he would recommend a delay.

MPs forced the PM to write last weekend to the EU, requesting an extension. And Mr Tusk tweeted: ‘Following Boris Johnson’s decision to pause the process of ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement, and in order to avoid a no-deal Brexit, I will recommend the EU27 accept the UK request for an extension. For this I will propose a written procedure.’

Mr Johnson had earlier told MPs: ‘Our policy is that we should leave the EU on October 31. One way or another we will leave with this deal, to which the House has just given its consent.’

The PM stopped short of previous threats to pull the bill completely and call for a general election.

‘We now face further uncertainty, and the EU must now make up its mind on how to respond to parliament’s request for a delay,’ he said. ‘I will speak to EU member states about their intentions. Until they have reached a decision we will pause this legislation.’

Commons speaker John Bercow said the bill was ‘in limbo’.

And Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg later responded: ‘I do wonder whether the bill is not in the heaven of having been passed, nor in the hell of having failed, but it is in purgatory where it is suffering the pains of those in purgatory.’

Labour said Mr Johnson was the ‘author of his own misfortune’.

‘We offered a compromise to agree a proper timetable but he has refused,’ shadow chancellor John McDonnell tweeted. ‘Johnson’s bluff of threatening to call a general election tonight was called.’

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage referred to Mr Johnson’s previous remark that he would ‘rather be dead in a ditch’ than delay Brexit. ‘Do or die is over,’ he tweeted.

‘We have now moved on to dying in a ditch. We will not be leaving the EU on October 31.’

MPs voiced fury after they were allowed less than three days to debate the deal Mr Johnson sealed with the EU on Thursday.

Labour’s Karl Turner said he and his wife ‘spent longer choosing a sofa’, while the Greens’ Caroline Lucas said the PM was ‘railroading’ a bill that would not stand up to scrutiny. The PM’s former allies in the DUP trooped through the Commons no lobby after accusing him of breaking his vow not to put a border between Britain and Northern Ireland.

The party’s Sammy Wilson said he ‘nearly choked’ at the PM’s claim the border would be ‘light touch’.

‘What I won’t take is a prime minister who thinks I can’t read,’ he snapped. ‘What we demand is that since we are part of the UK we leave on the same terms as the rest of the UK.’

Rory Stewart, who had the Conservative whip removed for helping efforts to thwart a no-deal, admitted Brexiteers are in a ‘boiling rage’ as he argued for another delay.

‘We have to do this legitimately,’ he said. ‘It can be done in an honourable fashion.’ Brexiteer Tory Iain Duncan Smith said: ‘If there is anything we have not now debated and thrashed to death, I would love to know what it is.’

The only likely way the UK could leave on October 31 is with a no-deal, if the EU refuses an extension.

Comic postscript as Tory tweets tickle Twitter users

LEADING up to last night’s votes, the @Conservatives Twitter account pushed out a series of brightly coloured messages urging MPs to back the government.But one particularly stood out — a call to ‘come together and get Brexit done’ appeared to feature Microsoft’s much-maligned Comic Sans font. In less than an hour, Comic Sans was the top UK trend on Twitter as users lined up to poke fun. ‘Comic sans for a comic Government,’ read one post.