Brexit: Stand by for an ever more bruising battle

The Conservative front bench during Saturday's debate Image copyright UK PARLIAMENT

Parliament's first Saturday sitting in decades was one to remember.

That's not because MPs made an historic decision either to leave the EU this month or not. MPs voted to delay giving their verdict on the deal the prime minister has negotiated with the EU.

For some of them, that is to copper-bottom the legal guarantee that No 10 cannot take us out of the EU without a formal agreement in place. But for others who voted that way, it's another chance to give voters another say on Brexit.

That seems hardly the half of it though. In fact so much happened that it is almost hard to know where to start.

Boris Johnson's Brexit deal

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Thousands marched on the streets demanding a chance to call a halt to the whole thing. The prime minister lost a vote that slams the brakes (for now) on his government's overwhelming ambition.

Look carefully at the voting lists, however, and Boris Johnson was able to demonstrate he has a genuine chance of getting the support of the Commons for his deal ultimately.

The likelihood of a Brexit agreement happening appears a thousand times stronger than it ever was under his predecessor.

That predecessor, Theresa May, argued passionately to support his policy, warning Parliament against conning the public, even though the man she was backing had caused her so much trouble.

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And the prime minister was forced to ask the EU for a delay to Brexit, something he vowed he would absolutely never do.

But he has sent the letter requesting it grudgingly, sending just a photocopy of what was spelt out in law, with a personal letter to the rest of the continent pleading with them not to listen.

Not surprisingly that has sent his political enemies into furious overdrive and, as I write, the outrage over his ploy is already in full swing.

He's been branded "pathetic" and "shameful", one Labour peer joking "surely there should be a fourth letter too, saying 'my name is Boris Johnson and I am five years old'."

Next week the fight over the deal and delay will continue, in the courts and in Parliament. No 10's opponents may try to show his approach to delay to be against the law in the courts.

His political enemies in Parliament will try to block his deal, again and again. If you think Parliament has been bruising and bizarre for both sides already, stand by for ever more complicated days.

But whether the government is determined or simply deluded, it will not be stopped by individual humiliations.

Boris Johnson is looking for one big victory - to leave the EU at the end of this month. That is certainly harder tonight, but not yet impossible.

Saturday's vote gives hope to politicians and those members of the public who want to stop Brexit from happening.

But remember, MPs have not said "no" to his deal, they have said "not yet".

No 10 will use everything in its not inconsiderable power to push and push - and in this moment, rightly or wrongly, Boris Johnson's team believes ongoing tangles in Parliament lead more of the public to take his side.

If that is a miscalculation, the next few weeks will be an extremely messy way of finding out.

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