Boris Johnson has written to the EU requesting a three-month delay to Brexit – despite telling them he doesn’t want one and vowing to press on with taking the UK out of the bloc on 31 October.
The prime minister wrote to European Council President Donald Tusk on Saturday night to request a further extension to the Article 50 negotiating period to 31 January 2020.
He was forced to send the letter after MPs voted earlier on Saturday to withhold their approval for his Brexit deal unless and until he has passed all necessary legislation to implement the agreement.
MPs voted for the delay so that the so-called Benn Act comes into play – the legislation passed by opposition MPs in September which aims to prevent a no-deal Brexit this month.
Mr Johnson’s reluctant extension request flies in the face of his promise to take the UK out of the bloc on 31 October “do or die”, while he has also previously said he would “rather be dead in a ditch” than ask for a fresh Brexit delay.
The prime minister will next week introduce the legislation needed to put his Brexit deal into UK law and will hope that a majority of MPs give their backing to his agreement so he can still meet his 31 October Brexit pledge.
On what had been dubbed “Super Saturday”, the House of Commons voted 322 to 306 in favour of an amendment – proposed by former Conservative minister Sir Oliver Letwin – to a motion on the prime minister’s Brexit deal.
Mr Johnson wrote to all MPs and peers after the Commons vote to state he will “not negotiate a delay with the EU”, while he will also tell Brussels that “further delay is not a solution”.
He also warned the EU could possibly “reject parliament’s request for further delay, or not take a decision quickly”.
The prime minister suggested, in those circumstances, MPs could yet be faced with a choice between his deal or a no-deal Brexit.
Emmanuel Macron’s office revealed the French president had “signalled a delay would be in no one’s interest”, in a conversation with Mr Johnson.
Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney reiterated Dublin’s stance that a Brexit delay is “preferable” to a no-deal Brexit, although he also stressed all other EU member states would need to unanimously back an extension for it to be granted.
“Any one prime minister can prevent that and I think the EU wants to see certainty and an end to endless negotiation and speculation, so I think a request for an extension is not straightforward,” he added.
The DUP gave their backing to Sir Oliver’s amendment, with the Northern Ireland party having earlier in the week announced their fierce opposition to the prime minister’s Brexit deal.
Eight of the 21 former Conservative MPs the prime minister withdrew the whip from last month – including ex-cabinet ministers Philip Hammond, David Gauke and Justine Greening – also backed Sir Oliver’s amendment.
They were among a total of 10 former Tory MPs, who now sit as independents, to support the amendment.
Six Labour MPs defied their party’s orders and voted against the amendment.
There were cheers from among the hundreds of thousands of people at a People’s Vote rally in Westminster, who want a second EU referendum, as the vote result was announced.
Speaking in the Commons after his defeat, Mr Johnson told MPs the so-called meaningful vote on his Brexit deal had “effectively been passed up because the meaningful vote has been voided of meaning”.
But the prime minister said he was not “daunted or dismayed” by what he described as a “pretty close” result.
Mr Johnson expressed his hope the EU “will not be attracted” to granting an Article 50 extension.
Leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, revealed the government will attempt to stage another meaningful vote on the Brexit agreement on Monday.
But Commons Speaker John Bercow hinted he could not allow such a vote as its “apparent purpose… is to invalidate or obviate” Sir Oliver’s amendment.
It has been suggested that if the government did win a meaningful vote on the Brexit deal on Monday, the prime minister could withdraw his request for an Article 50 extension or hope it persuades the EU not to grant a delay.
Next week, the government will also introduce the Withdrawal Agreement Bill needed to put Mr Johnson’s Brexit deal into law.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told Mr Johnson he “must now comply with the law” and request the Article 50 extension.
“He can no longer use the threat of a no-deal crash out to blackmail members to support his sell-out deal,” Mr Corbyn said.
“Labour is not prepared to sell out the communities that we represent. We’re not prepared to sell out their future.
“And we believe that, ultimately, the people must have the final say on Brexit which actually only the Labour Party is offering.”
Sir Oliver said his amendment was an “insurance policy” to prevent Britain “crashing out” of the EU without a deal on 31 October.
He told MPs he supports the prime minister’s deal but wants to “ensure that whichever way any future votes may go… we can be secure in the knowledge that the UK will have requested an extension… which if granted can be used if and to the extent necessary, and only the extent necessary, to prevent a no-deal exit.”
At a meeting of the European Research Group (ERG) of Conservative Brexiteers on Saturday morning, no MP was said to have spoken against the prime minister’s deal, in a boost to Mr Johnson’s chances of eventually seeing it passed.
A number of the ERG refused to vote for his predecessor Mrs May’s deal on all three occasions it was put to the Commons.