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Johnson sends Tusk letter seeking extension - along with another one saying further delay would be a mistake

Johnson’s plans to pass a Meaningful Vote on his deal today have been scuppered.

Image: House of Commons

BORIS JOHNSON HAS tried to distance himself from a legally required request for a Brexit extension by stressing to the EU it was sent at Parliament’s bidding.

After suffering an embarrassing defeat in the Commons over his Brexit plans, the Prime Minister got a senior diplomat to send an unsigned photocopy of the request by MPs to delay withdrawal from the EU.

In a second note to European Council president Donald Tusk, Johnson said a Brexit extension would be a mistake.

Tusk has confirmed he received the letter seeking an extension.

Tonight’s developments come after MPs in the House of Commons voted to force Johnson to seek the delay, throwing his plans to pass a Meaningful Vote on his new deal today and leave by 31 October into disarray. 

The Letwin amendment, a cross-party bid to seek an extension in order to ensure legislation backing up the new deal is through the House before Brexit happens, was passed this afternoon by a margin of 322 to 306. 

That vote followed hours of debate as MPs convened for what was being billed by the UK media as ‘Super Saturday’. It was the first time parliament had been convened on a Saturday for 37 years. 

The passing of the Letwin amendment meant that had today’s planned Meaningful Vote gone ahead it would have done so with the amendment, meaning an extension request would be required. 

But the vote did not go ahead meaning the Benn Act, passed last month, still applies. 

That legislation forced the government to request an extension from the EU if MPs had not approved a deal before midnight tonight Brussels time.  

The letter has now been sent in spite of Johnson telling the Commons earlier:

I will not negotiate a delay with the EU, neither does the law compel me to do so.

An EU source said earlier that Tusk and Johnson had spoken by phone at 8.15pm Brussels time (7.15pm Irish time), and added: “The PM confirmed that the letter would be sent to Tusk today.

“Tusk will on that basis start consulting EU leaders on how to react. This may take a few days,” he added.

After receiving the letter Tusk later tweeted: “The extension request has just arrived. I will now start consulting EU leaders on how to react.”

Meanwhile Johnson also called Taoiseach Leo Varadkar earlier to discuss the latest Westminster developments. No further details on that call were released. 

The decision on whether to grant an extension will come down to the leaders of the remaining 27 EU nations, but it will be Tusk’s job as head of the European Council to gather their views and he could call a special summit to approve an extension.

Johnson said in his second letter tonight that he would be happy to attend the start of any such summit in order to progress the ratification process. 

He added in that letter that a further delay would damage the interests of both the UK and the EU and said the process must be brought to a conclusion.

Earlier, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the Prime Minister must comply with the Benn Act.  

He said Johnson should “think very carefully” about his initial defiant comments in the wake of the amendment vote.

Other opposition party leaders also called on Johnson to comply with the Benn legislation and seek an extension. 

let1 Source: Press Association

Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg announced in the Commons this afternoon that there will be another Meaningful Vote on Monday.

However, it remains unclear whether Speaker John Bercow will allow the motion or not. He told MPs he would rule on it on Monday. 

How they voted 

The voting took place as hundreds of thousands of protesters converged on central London in a People’s Vote campaign march in support of a second referendum.

The result was greeted by loud cheers by the crowd assembled outside the Palace of Westminster in Parliament Square.

The Government was consigned to defeat after the 10 MPs of the DUP joined the other opposition parties in voting for the amendment.

Ten former Conservative MPs who now sit as independents, including former cabinet ministers Ken Clarke, Philip Hammond and Amber Rudd, also backed the amendment.

Six Labour rebels voted against it.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

European reaction 

In the immediate aftermath of the vote on the amendment it became clear the EU was adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach. 

The chief spokesperson for the European Commission tweeted earlier that it “takes note of the vote in the House of Commons today on the so-called #Letwin Amendment meaning that the #WithdrawalAgreement itself was not put to vote today. It will be for the UK government to inform us about the next steps as soon as possible.”

The Taoiseach said in a statement before tonight’s letters were sent: “The European Union and United Kingdom made a Withdrawal Agreement last Thursday that defends Ireland’s interests. The House of Commons voted today to defer a decision on whether or not to ratify that agreement.

“To date, no request for an extension has been made by the UK Government. Should that happen, President Tusk will consult with all 27 Heads of State & Government on whether or not we will grant one. An extension can only be granted by unanimity.”

Meanwhile the French government earlier said that a delay would be in “nobody’s interest”.

“An agreement has been negotiated. It is now up to the British parliament to say whether it accepts or rejects it,” the French presidency said.

- With reporting from Dominic McGrath, AFP and Press Association. 

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About the author:

Daragh Brophy

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