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British Government Asks for EU Delay Amid Johnson Resistance


British Government Asks for EU Delay Amid Johnson Resistance

LONDON—The British government formally asked the European Union on Saturday to delay the country’s departure from the bloc for the third time, a request Prime Minister

Boris Johnson

had long resisted but that was forced after lawmakers deferred a critical vote on his new Brexit deal.

Mr. Johnson, who didn’t sign the letter, sent a second one calling Parliament’s decision regrettable and urging EU leaders not to grant an extension.

“A further extension would damage the interests of the U.K. and our EU partners,” he said. “We must bring this process to a conclusion.”

The government request marks a political setback for Mr. Johnson just days after he successfully concluded a renegotiation of Britain’s EU withdrawal terms that his political opponents assumed was all but impossible.

Lawmakers meeting in the first Saturday session since the 1982 Falklands War decided to push back a major vote on Mr. Johnson’s Brexit deal to allow for more scrutiny of the details. An earlier law required the prime minister to request a three-month extension to the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline if Parliament hadn’t ratified a withdrawal agreement by midnight.

European Council President Donald Tusk said on Twitter the extension request had arrived and he would begin consulting with EU leaders. EU leaders will respond in the coming days.

Mr. Johnson is hoping he can secure lawmakers’ backing early next week for his Brexit deal to ensure any delay to Britain’s departure from the bloc is brief. The government said there was still time to leave the EU at the end of the month.

Parliament said it needed more time to review Mr. Johnson’s deal, which sets out citizens’ rights, a financial settlement to the EU and a special arrangement for Northern Ireland that would require customs checks on goods arriving there from elsewhere in the U.K.

The move to delay was backed by opposition lawmakers, along with some who have recently left or been expelled from the ruling Conservative Party over disagreements with Mr. Johnson’s Brexit approach. Critically, it was supported by the party’s allies in Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, who oppose Mr. Johnson’s deal because they say it creates new barriers between Northern Ireland and the British mainland.

Until he made the request, Mr. Johnson kept lawmakers guessing. He said he wouldn’t negotiate an extension with the EU, drawing gasps in the House of Commons. However, the law doesn’t require a negotiation, only a request. His spokesman said the government respects the law but refused to elaborate.

The legislature is set to resume debate on the agreement next week, when the government will give lawmakers a further chance to vote on a deal possibly as early as Monday.

It is far from over for Mr. Johnson’s deal. The 28 pro-Brexit lawmakers who voted against former Prime Minister

Theresa May’s

withdrawal package on three occasions all rejected the amendment and spoke in support of Mr. Johnson’s deal during the debate.

So, too, did 10 of the 22 ex-Conservatives who quit or were expelled from the party for defying Mr. Johnson. Seven of the others who supported the amendment—including

Oliver Letwin,

who proposed it—signaled they would vote for Mr. Johnson’s deal.

“It seems they do have quite a good chance,” said Maddy Thimont Jack, senior researcher at the Institute for Government.

If lawmakers approve the deal then next week, it wouldn’t necessarily mean it is in the bag. It would have to undergo further scrutiny from lawmakers with the possibility that important amendments could still be passed, including one that would require the deal to be put to a second referendum.

If Parliament doesn’t ratify the agreement, the Brexit process would again be plunged into uncertainty, with an election or referendum likely needed to resolve the stalemate.

EU diplomats have scheduled a meeting on Sunday to discuss the U.K. request for a delay. Officials say leaders are unlikely to deny an extension, but the timing of any decision is uncertain and governments may wish to aid Mr. Johnson by not responding until after next week’s vote.

If they grant one, EU governments could offer a shorter or longer extension than three months, which the government would be compelled to accept under the law. In any case, the extension could be shortened if the U.K. Parliament has approved the deal.

As U.K. Parliament Defers Brexit Vote, Britons Protest

Huge crowds marched in London calling for a vote on any EU withdrawal deal

A march called ‘Together for the Final Say’ against Brexit drew tens of thousands of people to central London, demanding a new referendum on whether Britain should leave the European Union.


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A march called ‘Together for the Final Say’ against Brexit drew tens of thousands of people to central London, demanding a new referendum on whether Britain should leave the European Union.


Before the amendment was passed in an emergency session Saturday, lawmakers argued they wouldn’t have time to examine the small print of the agreement, which runs to more than 500 pages. Some complained there had been no assessment of its economic consequences.

Mr. Johnson, whose ability to control Parliament is significantly restricted by the fact his government is in a minority, had urged lawmakers to back the revised withdrawal deal he negotiated with the EU.

“Now is the time for this great House of Commons to come together and bring the country together today,” Mr. Johnson said. He said the deal provides “a real Brexit” that would be “the greatest single restoration of national sovereignty in parliamentary history.”

Jeremy Corbyn,

leader of the main opposition Labour Party, said Mr. Johnson’s administration was seeking to avoid scrutiny of the new withdrawal deal, which he said was worse than the package negotiated by Mrs. May. He repeated Labour’s call for a second referendum to put any Brexit deal to voters alongside the choice of staying in the EU.

The prospect of Parliament enforcing another delay reprises a familiar theme in Britain’s long-running Brexit saga. Government efforts to railroad Parliament into supporting its Brexit plans have repeatedly been rebuffed by a legislature that cherishes its independence.

Deal or No Deal?

Here’s a cheat-sheet of the most likely paths that Brexit could take.

Parliament forces delay through Letwin amendment

Govt. asks for extension until Jan. 31, 2020

Govt. refuses to ask for extension

Parliament votes on

deal reached in Brussels

Parliament ousts Johnson or he resigns.*

Govt. asks for extension until Jan. 31, 2020†

*Court could order government to request extension

†Assuming it did not ask for one earlier

Mr. Johnson’s strategy has been to keep the Oct. 31 deadline alive to present lawmakers with the option of backing his deal or exiting without one, an outcome many fear would cause economic havoc.

“That’s the Holy Grail of Brexit: Present Parliament with a binary choice that is inescapable,” said

Anand Menon,

professor of politics at King’s College London. Saturday’s amendment is aimed at changing that calculus and giving Parliament more time to scrutinize the new deal, he added.

As lawmakers debated in Parliament, thousands of people gathered nearby to show their support for or opposition to leaving the bloc.

Stuart Holmes, a retired 72-year-old Londoner, paced back and forth through the green near the House of Commons, holding a sign reading, “Leave then negotiate.” He said three years of back and forth since the referendum has been too much.

“If we don’t honor that, where does it end?” he said.

Across the lawn, Lindsay Kitson, 66, said she was attending her second Brexit protest in central London. “It’s to tell our grandchildren that we stood up for their future,” she said.

Write to Max Colchester at and Jason Douglas at

Corrections & Amplifications
An earlier version of the article included a reference to a statue of Mahatma Gandhi that misspelled his last name as Ghandi (Oct. 20)

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