Johnson and Corbyn fail to agree timetable for 'paused' Brexit bill

Johnson and Corbyn fail to agree timetable for 'paused' Brexit bill

PM and Labour leader meet but do not agree way forward for withdrawal agreement bill

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn have failed to agree a timetable for pressing ahead with the “paused” Brexit bill.

Despite the prime minister’s threat on Tuesday to pull the withdrawal agreement bill (Wab) and press for a general election if MPs rejected his fast-track timetable for approving the legislation, Downing Street confirmed the pair had met on Wednesday.

Corbyn was accompanied by his key adviser Seumas Milne, and Johnson by Dominic Cummings, as well as the two parties’ respective chief whips. The meeting took place in the prime minister’s office in the House of Commons.

A Labour spokesperson said: “Jeremy Corbyn reiterated Labour’s offer to the prime minister to agree a reasonable timetable to debate, scrutinise and amend the withdrawal agreement bill, and restated that Labour will support a general election when the threat of a no-deal crash-out is off the table.”

But Downing Street sources claimed: “Corbyn made clear he has no policy except more delays and to spend 2020 having referendums.”

The lack of progress was shown soon afterwards during prime minister’s questions, at which Corbyn called for the government to give parliament “the necessary time to improve on this worse-than-terrible treaty”. In response, Johnson accused Labour of seeking to scupper Brexit.

Corbyn used all his questions at PMQs to ask Johnson about elements of the Wab, including standards for environmental, consumer and workers’ rights, and the continued inclusion of Northern Ireland in elements of the EU’s customs union.

After Johnson incorrectly said there would be “no checks between Northern Ireland and GB [Great Britain]”, Corbyn accused him of having not properly read his own bill.

“The prime minister unlawfully prorogued parliament; he said he would refuse to comply with [the] law; he threw Northern Ireland under a bus; he ripped up protections for workers’ rights and environmental protections; lost every vote along the way; and tried to prevent genuine, democratic scrutiny and debate,” the Labour leader said.

“Even worse than that – he’s not that familiar with it.”

The government lost the programme motion setting up the timetable for scrutinising the legislation by 14 votes on Tuesday night. The Speaker, John Bercow, said the defeat meant the bill was in “limbo”.

Johnson had sought to push the Wab through the Commons in three days, in an attempt to meet his “do or die” deadline of leaving the EU by 31 October.

Corbyn responded to the government’s defeat by offering to discuss the timetabling of the legislation.

The prime minister had earlier warned that if the EU27 accepted the request for a three-month Brexit delay set out in the letter Johnson reluctantly sent on Saturday night, he would ask MPs to support a snap general election.