UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has grudgingly asked the European Union to delay Brexit after the British Parliament postponed a decision on whether to back his divorce deal.
But the defiant Johnson also made clear that he personally was opposed to delaying the Brexit, scheduled for October 31.
A law passed by Parliament last month set a late-night deadline for the government to send a letter asking the EU for a three-month postponement if MPs had not approved an agreement by Saturday.
An hour before the deadline, European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted: “The extension request has just arrived. I will now start consulting EU leaders on how to react.”
Johnson made clear he was making the request under duress by declining to sign it, then sending a second note arguing that delay would “damage the interests if the UK and our EU partners”.
Earlier in the day, Johnson told MPs that “further delay would be bad for this country, bad for the European Union and bad for democracy”.
The extension request has just arrived. I will now start consulting EU leaders on how to react. #Brexit
— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) October 19, 2019
French President Emmanuel Macron seemed to agree. Macron’s office said he spoke to Johnson by phone and insisted on the need for “quick clarification of the British position on the accord”.
The president’s office said Macron indicated to the British prime minister that “a delay would be in no one’s interest”.
At a rare weekend sitting of Parliament, MPs voted 322-306 to withhold their approval of the Brexit deal until legislation to implement it has been passed.
As the Westminster parliament once again refused to put its stamp on a Brexit deal, hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered on the streets of London to demand a second referendum they hope would reverse the first result of three years ago.
The vote aims to ensure that the UK can’t crash out of the EU without a divorce deal on the scheduled October 31 departure date.
British MPs will debate and vote on Monday on whether to approve Mr Johnson’s Brexit deal, House of Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said.
“Monday’s business will now be a debate on a motion relating to Section 13 (1B) of the European Union Withdrawal Act 2018,” Mr Rees-Mogg said after the vote.
Section 13 (1B) covers the formal approval vote Parliament is required to hold in order to pass a deal.
Earlier, a defiant Mr Johnson said he will not negotiate a further delay to Britain’s departure from the EU.
The amendment to delay approval was put forward by Oliver Letwin, a former Conservative cabinet minister.
According to legislation passed earlier, the vote means Mr Johnson is obliged to write to the EU seeking a delay beyond Britain’s scheduled departure date of October 31.
But Mr Johnson has repeatedly vowed he will not do this and on Saturday he stuck to that line.
“I will not negotiate a delay with the EU and neither does the law compel me to do so,” the Prime Minister told parliament.
“I will tell our friends and colleagues in the EU exactly what I have told everyone else in the last 88 days that I have served as prime minister: that further delay would be bad for this country, bad for the European Union and bad for democracy,” he said.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn demanded the government delay Britain’s departure.
“The Prime Minister must now comply with the law,” Mr Corbyn told the House of Commons.
Mr Letwin’s amendment proposed that a decision on whether to back a Brexit deal be deferred until all the legislation needed to implement it has been passed through parliament.
Even though Mr Johnson believes this can be achieved by October 31, others think it would need a short “technical” delay in Britain’s departure from the EU.
A law passed by Mr Johnson’s opponents obliges him to ask the EU for a Brexit delay until January 31, 2020 if he could not secure approval for his deal by the end of Saturday.
“My aim is to ensure that Boris’s deal succeeds,” Mr Letwin said earlier.
But he said he wanted “an insurance policy which prevents the UK from crashing out on 31 October by mistake if something goes wrong during the passage of the implementing legislation”.
Three years after Britain voted 52-48 per cent to leave the European project, Johnson struck a divorce deal with the bloc in Brussels on Thursday.