Britain asks EU to postpone Brexit for third time after UK lawmakers delay vote on withdrawal deal
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street to head for the House of Commons as parliament discusses Brexit, sitting on a Saturday for the first time since the 1982 Falklands War, in London, Britain, October 19, 2019.
Tom Nicholson | Reuters
Britain has requested an extension of the Oct. 31 deadline to leave the European Union after U.K. lawmakers delayed a vote Saturday on the withdrawal agreement negotiated by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
EU Council President Donald Tusk said he received the extension letter and that he would begin consulting with EU leaders on how to respond to Britain’s request. It is the third time that Britain has asked the EU to delay the deadline for Brexit.
Johnson, however, did not personally sign the letter officially requesting an extension. The prime minister, in a separate letter to Tusk, made clear that he personally opposes such an extension.
“I have made clear since becoming Prime Minister, and made clear to Parliament again today, my view, and the Government’s position, that a further extension would damage the interests of the UK and our EU partners, and the relationship between us,” Johnson wrote.
Though Johnson personally opposes an extension, the British government was forced to ask for one after U.K. lawmakers delayed approval of Johnson’s withdrawal agreement and voted to activate a law that required Downing Street to ask Brussels to push back the deadline for Brexit.
That amendment triggering the law, known as the “Benn Act,” was backed by 322 votes to 306.
Johnson wrote that it is up to the EU to decide whether to grant the request for an extension. He said that the British government would press ahead with ratification of the withdrawal agreement and that he hopes the process can be completed before the current deadline for Brexit lapses on Oct. 31.
Speaking after the setback in parliament Saturday, Johnson said he would “not negotiate a delay with the EU and neither does the law compel me to do so.” However by law, according to the Benn Act, Johnson had until 11:00 p.m. London time Saturday to send a letter to the EU requesting an extension.
Johnson also added: “I will tell our friends and colleagues in the EU exactly what I’ve told everyone in the last 88 days that I’ve served as prime minister: that further delay would be bad for this country, bad for the European Union and bad for democracy.”
Johnson has also previously stated he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than ask for more time from the EU.
His withdrawal agreement bill will now be introduced in the House of Commons early next week which would potentially mean a vote on Tuesday evening on what is termed the “second reading,” the initial stage of a passage of bill through the House of Commons.
Should it pass, this would be the first time the House has passed any bill relating to Brexit withdrawal deals.
—CNBC’s Elliot Smith contributed to this article.