Brexits big week: Five things we learned on Wednesday

In such an extreme week at Westminster, we could be close to running out of superlatives.

Nevertheless, we’ll do our best to bring you all you need to know on the biggest moments of Wednesday.

1) Brexit delay bill clears the Commons…

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UK Parliament

It was never really in doubt after Tuesday night’s victory for the Brexit rebels, but half of their work is now done.

Their bill – which would force the prime minister to go to the EU and ask for an extension to the UK’s membership if there’s no progress by 19 October – was endorsed by MPs. In the words of its proposer, Labour’s Hilary Benn, it has one purpose – to prevent a no-deal Brexit.

The bill now heads to the House of Lords.

There was a bit of last-minute drama, too, when an amendment to the bill from Labour MP Stephen Kinnock seemed to pass by accident after the government’s teller failed to appear for the count.

It later emerged that it was a kind of tactic and the amendment had no legal power anyway.

Following the defeat, Boris Johnson was on his feet immediately, decrying those who backed the bill and insisting there was now only one option left – a general election.

2) … However, there won’t be an election – yet

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UK Parliament

Boris Johnson had to get the backing of two-thirds of MPs to call an election and he failed.

In large part, that’s because opposition parties don’t trust him. Jeremy Corbyn says he is personally spoiling for an election; Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson told the PM “bring it on”.

But they, along with the SNP and others, want to see no deal categorically ruled out before they’ll commit. They want to make absolutely sure, for example, that Mr Johnson couldn’t just hold an election on 15 October, win it and then march the country out on 31 October, come what may.

Weary voters out there, don’t breathe a sigh of relief though – an election, eventually, is all but inevitable.

Mr Johnson is more than 20 MPs short of a majority – he can’t govern effectively. Jeremy Corbyn et al want him out. So ultimately, it’s a question of when not if.

3) Johnson’s first Prime Minister’s Questions

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UK Parliament

Many hours before all of that, it was Boris Johnson’s first PMQs and it was memorable.

There was clearly no love lost between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn, as the pair spat through their exchanges on Brexit like an angry tennis volley with few concrete answers.

The Labour leader repeatedly called for details of the PM’s negotiating plan with the EU – he didn’t get any.

The PM pushed the Labour leader to back an election on 15 October, mouthing the words “you great big girl’s blouse” when the answer was not forthcoming, and repeatedly calling the anti-no-deal plan a “surrender bill”.

Expect to hear that phrase a lot in the coming weeks.

After PMQs, the chancellor set out his spending plans for the year ahead – declaring the end to austerity. It speaks volumes about the sort of week we’re in that his speech didn’t get an entry of its own in our top five…

4) A Burka row… but no apology

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Media captionLabour MP demands apology for Johnson remarks

The most dramatic moment of PMQs actually had nothing to do with Brexit – imagine that….

The Labour MP for Slough, Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, demanded with great passion that the PM apologise for comments he made a while ago in a newspaper article comparing Muslim women to letterboxes.

The question received rapturous applause from his colleagues, but Mr Johnson didn’t apologise – even when the initial question was backed up by Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson, who warned the PM his words “carry weight” and he “has to be more careful” with what he says.

Elsewhere during PMQs, Mr Johnson used some rather agricultural language so we’re not sure the message got through.

5) Farewell and defiance from Tory rebels

The axe fell swiftly after Tuesday’s night’s government defeat – 21 Conservative MPs, many with decades of service under their belt, were kicked out of the party for defying Boris Johnson’s orders.

On Wednesday, we’ve heard from most of them and it’s clear there’s real pain and genuine bafflement in some quarters.

For Sir Nicholas Soames – grandson of Sir Winston Churchill – there was, if not a tear in the eye, certainly a quiver in the voice as he announced he would not be standing in the next general election.

“I am thus approaching the end of 37 years service to this House, of which I have been proud and honoured beyond words to be a member,” he said. “I am truly sad that it should end in this way.”

Alistair Burt added: “I say to my colleagues, if we’re being purged now, who is next?”

He added: “I will walk out of here looking up at the sky, not down at my shoes.”

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