Brexit delay looms after UK MPs demand more time to debate deal
LONDON (AFP) – European Council President Donald Tusk said he will recommend EU leaders grant another Brexit extension, hours after British MPs rejected Prime Minister Boris Johnson's bid to force his divorce deal through parliament this week. Tusk said he would advise the bloc's 27 other member states to accept a postponement request from the UK government, which Johnson was forced to submit Saturday under British law after he had failed to win lawmakers' backing for his new agreement. However, earlier on Tuesday MPs gave their initial approval to legislation enacting the agreement struck with Brussels last week — only to then block the British premier's timetable to pass it ahead of the latest October 31 date for Brexit. Johnson immediately announced he would pause the process of trying to ratify the text — the first that MPs have backed since the 2016 referendum — while he consulted European Union leaders on a possible delay. "Following Prime Minister Boris Johnson's decision to pause the process of ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement, and in order to avoid a no-deal Brexit, I will recommend the EU27 accept the UK request for an extension," Tusk said in a tweet. France's European Affairs Minister Amelie de Montchalin said Paris was open to a "technical" Brexit extension of "several days" but ruled out reopening discussions to renegotiate the deal reached by the two sides. Johnson won a significant victory when the House of Commons voted by 329 to 299 to approve in principal a bill that implements his Brexit deal. But just minutes later, MPs rejected by 322 to 308 his timetable motion demanding they push through the bill in three days to allow Britain's departure at the end of this month. Johnson reiterated his desire to stick to the October 31 date and said Britain would step up preparations in case of a disorderly "no deal" exit. Ratifying the bill before October 31 would have allowed him to avoid a legally-mandated delay, which was set provisionally at three months but is open for EU leaders to amend. With speedy ratification now in doubt, a postponement seems inevitable. "I will speak to EU member states about their intentions," Johnson told MPs. "Until we have reached a decision I will say, we will pause this legislation. "Let me be clear — our policy remains that we should not delay, that we should leave the European Union on October 31. That is what I will say to the EU." Ahead of the vote, Johnson warned he would seek an election to break the political deadlock, although this requires the support of the Labour party.