Despite the setback of his latest defeat in the House of Commons, Boris Johnson’s government is still in a strong position to deliver a Halloween Brexit.
It is thought that even without the backing of the Northern Irish Democratic Unionists (DUP), who oppose the revised Withdrawal Agreement that Johnson struck with the EU last week, the Prime Minister will have sufficient numbers to ratify the new deal, thanks to support from independent Conservative MPs and rebel Labour MPs.
Many of the independent Conservative MPs, who backed a key amendment tabled by a former Brexit secretary, Sir Oliver Letwin on Saturday forcing Johnson to ask the EU for an extension to the 31 October Brexit deadline, have said they will back the Withdrawal Agreement bill when the detailed legislation is presented to UK parliamentarians.
The amendment withholds approval of the deal, until the legislation to enact it has been safely passed - a move that automatically triggered the so-called "Benn Act" forcing the prime minister to request a further postponement of Brexit until 31 January.
An estimated two million people took part in a People’s Vote march in London on Saturday against the UK leaving the EU. Many MPs are looking again at the idea - first proposed by the campaign group New Europeans in February 2019 - of holding a confirmatory referendum on the new deal.
"A confirmatory referendum will put the question back to the people and we will get a decision" Hilary Benn, UK MP
The idea is that MPs will back the withdrawal agreement bill despite their reservations in return for a clause which guarantees a referendum on the final deal. A similar procedure was used to secure the Ireland/Northern Ireland/UK Good Friday Agreement.
Peter Kyle, one of the Labour MPs who has championed the proposal said on twitter: “It’s time for us to find a way forward, and this is the only way that keeps the government deal intact and offers a final, definitive end to this stage of Brexit.”
Dame Margaret Beckett, former foreign secretary and deputy leader of the Labour Party, said: “Labour’s position should be clear: we would allow a deal to pass through parliament only if it was subject to a confirmatory referendum.
"Brexit started with the people and it should end with the people – we need a final say on the final deal if the issue is to be settled in a fair and reasonable way" Roger Casale, founder and CEO of New Europeans
Addressing Saturday’s marchers at a rally close to the UK’s Houses of Parliament, Hilary Benn MP, Chair of the House of Commons Select Committee for Exiting the European Union said, "A confirmatory referendum will put the question back to the people and we will get a decision".
Previous attempts to attach a confirmatory referendum to the Brexit Bill have failed, but Roger Casale, founder and CEO of New Europeans told this website the prospect the deal could go through this time is focusing minds.
“A confirmatory referendum is perhaps the only practical way forward now . But it is also right in principle, given how tight the votes are in parliament. Brexit started with the people and it should end with the people – we need a final say on the final deal if the issue is to be settled in a fair and reasonable way.”