Boris Johnson tells Donald Tusk he does not want a Brexit delay

A source said the PM believes it is still possible to deliver Brexit with a ratified deal by the October 31 deadline.

Boris Johnson and Donald Tusk
Boris Johnson and Donald Tusk

Boris Johnson has told Donald Tusk that there should be no Brexit delay and that it is in the EU and UK’s interests that Britain leaves the bloc on October 31, Downing Street has said.

The Prime Minister spoke to the European Council president on Wednesday morning after his plans to fast-track his deal through the Commons by the end of the month hit the buffers.

EU leaders will decide whether to grant Britain a further extension, and for how long, in order to allow the UK to leave with a deal, following the request for a delay.

Brexit timeline: key date
(PA Graphics)

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said Mr Johnson “set out that he continues to believe that there should be no extension and that it is in the interests of both (the EU) and the United Kingdom for us to leave on October 31” in his call to Mr Tusk.

But a Number 10 source said it “looks like” Brussels will offer an extension until January 31, adding: “In that point we know what will always happen: this broken Parliament will always vote for delay rather than a deal.

“Therefore if this Parliament is unwilling to vote for a deal then we will have to go for a general election.”

The PM also spoke to German chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday afternoon and expressed the same point he made to Mr Tusk, Number 10 said.

Opposition parties have signalled they will back a poll this autumn if the EU grants a delay until next year, while talks between the Government and Labour Party on a new timetable to get the PM’s deal through the Commons appeared to have stalled.

Mr Johnson met Jeremy Corbyn in his Commons office on Wednesday to discuss a new plan, but a Tory source said the Labour leader made clear he has “no policy except more delays and to spend 2020 having referendums”.

A Labour spokeswoman said Mr Corbyn reiterated Labour’s offer to “agree a reasonable timetable to debate, scrutinise and amend the Withdrawal Agreement Bill” and “restated that Labour will support a general election when the threat of a no-deal crashout is off the table”.

Mr Corbyn’s spokesman later said that the party’s chief whip, Nick Brown, told the meeting that the opposition was “ready to work together with the Government” to find a “reasonable and sensible” way of getting the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) completed.

Asked how Mr Johnson responded to that offer, the spokesman said: “He certainly didn’t lean in that direction but did not rule it out.”

Irish premier Leo Varadkar said he is supportive of the request for a delay, and that Mr Tusk is recommending that the EU27 “accept an extension until January 31 that could be terminated early if the House of Commons and House of Lords ratifies an agreement”.

“I agreed to that but that’s not yet agreed by the 27 and we may have to have an emergency European Council over the course of the next few days to discuss it if he can’t get consensus,” he told the Irish parliament.

The European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt said the Parliament’s Brexit Steering Group was of the opinion that a “flextension, not going beyond the 31st of January, is the only way forward”.

However EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier has called for clarity from the Government over the extension request.

Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon suggested Labour would back the PM’s calls for a general election if EU leaders agree to a Brexit delay into next year.

“If the EU responds by agreeing an extension of a number of months that means that Boris Johnson in that time can’t push us out through a no-deal Brexit,” the Labour frontbencher told BBC Breakfast.

“Given that Labour will be calling for a general election once a no-deal is off the table because actually it’s only a general election that can sort out Brexit because a Labour government would hold a public vote between a credible leave option and remain to finally sort this out.”

Jo Swinson
Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson speaking in the House of Commons (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA)

A senior Liberal Democrat source said Jo Swinson’s party was “not scared” of a general election, adding: “Our priority remains getting a People’s Vote, but we are not scared of a general election.”

SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said her party will take decisions on next steps when they know what will happen regarding an extension and when they have “clarity about the intentions of the Prime Minister”.

“Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn are Brexiteers, and we can’t wait to take them on and show the country that we can stop Brexit and build a brighter future.”

There was anger in Downing Street on Tuesday after MPs rejected Mr Johnson’s plan to push through the legislation approving his deal with the EU in just three days by 322 votes to 308 – despite having given their approval, in principle, to his Brexit deal minutes earlier.

Mr Johnson’s decision to “pause” the legislation makes his promise to take Britain out of the EU by October 31 “come what may” difficult to fulfil and means Brexit could be delayed until next year.

The dramatic result in Parliament on Tuesday – which Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said left Brexit “in purgatory” – puts the Prime Minister effectively at the mercy of EU leaders who will decide whether to grant Britain a further extension in order to pass a deal.

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