In a major blow to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, UK lawmakers voted on Saturday to postpone a decision on whether to back their Brexit agreement with the European Union, throwing a key in government plans to leave the block at the end of this month.
In a special session of Parliament with the intention of ratifying the Brexit agreement, legislators voted 322-306 to retain their approval of the Brexit agreement until the legislation to implement it is passed.
The vote aims to ensure that the United Kingdom cannot leave the EU without a divorce agreement on the scheduled departure date for October 31. But it means that Johnson has to ask the EU to delay Britain's departure, as Parliament previously passed a law that requires him to do so if a Brexit divorce agreement has not been approved on Saturday.
The government still hopes to pass the necessary legislation by the end of the month so that the United Kingdom can leave on time.
A defiant Johnson said after the vote that he was not "intimidated or dismayed" by the result and that he would move forward with plans to leave the EU.
While lawmakers debated, tens of thousands of anti-Brexit protesters descended to London to march to Parliament Square, demanding a new referendum on whether Britain should leave the EU or remain. Protesters, many with blue berets stamped with yellow stars that symbolize the EU flag, left the underground trains and buses for the latest protest effort.
Bruce Nicole, a vicar of Camberley in southwest London, said the Brexit deal would harm Britain.
"I fervently believe that we must remain in the EU," he said. "I am British but I am also European."
In parliament before the vote, Johnson implored lawmakers to ratify the agreement he reached this week with the other 27 leaders of the bloc. He said that the members of the House of Commons should "unite as Democrats to end this debilitating enmity" over Brexit, which has bitterly divided the country since British voters decided by little in a 2016 vote to leave the EU.
"Now is the time for this great House of Commons to join … as I think people at home wait and wait," Johnson told lawmakers.
But he did not get the result he was looking for.
The problems began when the president of the House of Commons, John Bercow, said he would first allow an amendment to postpone the vote on the agreement to another day.
The amendment makes the conditional agreement depend on the legislation to implement it being approved by Parliament, something that could take several days or weeks. It also gives legislators another opportunity to examine and possibly change the terms of exit from Brexit while legislation passes through Parliament.
Johnson described any delay in the departure date of Brexit from Great Britain as "useless, expensive and deeply corrosive to public confidence." And he warned on Saturday that the approval of the block could not be guaranteed.
"There is very little appetite among our friends in the EU for this business to last another day," said Johnson. "They have had three and a half years of this debate." French President Emmanuel Macron did the same a day earlier in Brussels.
"I want us to finish this and talk about the future," Macron said. “The date of October 31 must be respected. I don't think new delays should be granted. ” The EU budget commissioner, Guenther Oettinger, told the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag that if British lawmakers reject Johnson's Brexit agreement, it is likely that the United Kingdom will exit the block without an agreement.
Britain could still leave the EU on October 31, if Parliament approves legislation and the Draft Retirement Act on time. The government plans to present the bill early next week and could hold sessions of Parliament late at night in the hope that it will be approved in a matter of days.
While lawmakers rumbled on their first Saturday sitting since the Falklands War of 1982, the streets of London became a sea of blue. Some protesters with bells tied to their legs and wielding sticks performed a traditional Morris dance and chanted: "Morris, not Boris!" To applaud the spectators.
Others were very afraid to leave the EU.
Sarah Spoor, from West London, said she had two children with disabilities and feared for her health due to the possible shortage of medicines and the fact that EU doctors and nurses could leave the UK after Brexit.
“I am distressed. Crazy. It's really distressing, ”he said, crying.
Johnson hopes to succeed in getting a frantic Parliament to back the deal after its predecessor, Theresa May, failed three times to get lawmakers to back up its Brexit plan.
However, his hopes for reaching an agreement in Parliament were affected when his Northern Ireland ally, the Democratic Unionist Party, said he would not support it. The party says that Johnson's Brexit package, which establishes a special status for Northern Ireland to maintain an open border with Ireland, an EU member, is bad for the region and weakens its ties with the rest of the United Kingdom.
To compensate for the votes of 10 DUP legislators, Johnson has tried to persuade members of the center-left Labor Party to support the agreement. On Friday night, the government promised to strengthen environmental protections and workers' rights to mitigate labor fears that the conservative government plans to cut those protections after Brexit.
Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn dismissed those promises as inadequate.
"This agreement is not good for employment, it damages the industry and is a threat to our environment and the natural world," he said. "Supporting the government this afternoon would simply fire the starter gun in a race to the bottom in regulations and standards."