Boris Johnson asks EU for three month extension to Brexit deadline in unsigned letter

20 October 2019, 07:54 | Updated: 20 October 2019, 11:26

The Prime Minister was required by law to write to the EU
The Prime Minister was required by law to write to the EU. Picture: PA/Downing Street
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Boris Johnson has written two letters to the EU, one - unsigned - asking for Brexit to be delayed, and one - signed - asking for it not to be.

MPs voted by a majority of 16 to back an amendment put forward by former Cabinet minister Sir Oliver Letwin to withhold approval of the deal agreed between Mr Johnson and Brussels "unless and until implementing legislation is passed".

Sir Oliver, who lost the Tory whip for voting against the Government on Brexit previously, said the amendment was "insurance" against the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal by mistake on the scheduled deadline of October 31.

The Prime Minister sent the unsigned letter asking for an extension, as he is required to do by law - but sent another one saying it would be "deeply corrosive."

The Prime Minister has been forced to ask for a short extension until 11.00pm on January 31st 2020, in case his agreement isn't legally ready by the Halloween deadline at the end of this month.

Mr Johnson previously said he would "rather be dead in a ditch" than ask for a delay to Brexit, and had promised the UK would leave on October 31st "do or die."

MPs are expected to vote on it again on Monday and the outcome is too close to call.

On Sunday morning EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier was asked if the bloc was going to be open to an extension, Mr Barnier said European Council President Donald Tusk would consider the next stage.

He told reporters: "As foreseen, the EU ambassadors meet this morning to take the next steps of the (EU) ratification and tomorrow I will await the European Parliament."

He added: "It was a very short and normal meeting of EU 27 ambassadors to launch the next steps of the (EU) ratification of the agreement."

After the letter asking for a Brexit delay was sent to the EU, Jeremy Corbyn tweeted: "I told the Prime Minister to obey the law and despite his petulant posturing and bluster he finally has - he's asked for an extension.

"His damaging deal was defeated."

In a signed letter to Donald Tusk, Mr Johnson said it was regrettable Parliament "missed the opportunity to inject momentum into the ratification process for the new Withdrawal Agreement."

A covering note from Sir Tim Barrow, the UK's Ambassador to Europe, explained the first letter complied with the law as agreed by Parliament.

He wrote that the Government will "press ahead" trying to get the Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament, and would introduce the necessary legislation early next week. Mr Johnson said he remains "confident that we will complete that process by 31 October."

On the subject of an extension the Prime Minister made it clear he was not in favour, he wrote: "While it is open to the European Council to accede to the request mandated by Parliament or to offer an alternative extension period, I have made clear since becoming Prime Minister, and made clear to Parliament again today, my view, and the Government's position, that a further extension would damage the interests of the UK and our EU partners, and the relationship between us."

On Saturday, Mr Johnson addressed MPs in Parliament following the loss of the Letwin Amendment vote and said he would not ask for an extension.

In a letter sent to all MPs and Peers laying out his plans, Mr Johnson wrote: "I have made clear that I do not want more delay. European leaders have made clear they do not want more delay. It is to my great regret that today the House has voted for more delay.

"The public want us to get Brexit done so the country can move on. The best thing for the United Kingdom and the European Union is for us to leave with this new deal on 31 October."

The Prime Minister added: "I will not negotiate a delay with the European Union. I will tell the EU what I have told the British public for my 88 days as Prime Minister: further delay is not a solution.

"That is why next week this Government will introduce the legislation needed for us to leave the European Union with our great new deal on 31 October.

"It is quite possible that our friends in the European Union will reject Parliament's request for further delay (or not take a decision quickly). In these circumstances, I hope colleagues on all sides of the House will - faced with a choice of our new deal or no deal - support this new deal."

European Council president Donald Tusk has confirmed he has received the extension request from Boris Johnson.

He said on Twitter: "The extension request has just arrived. I will now start consulting EU leaders on how to react."

A statement from France's presidential Elysee Palace said there is nothing to be gained by prolonging a decision on the Brexit deal.

It said any additional delay "is in the interest of no-one".

French president Emmanuel Macron's office said given that a deal has been negotiated, "it's now up to the British Parliament to say if it approves or rejects it. There must be a vote on the fundamentals".

Here is Prime Minister Boris Johnson's personal letter to Donald Tusk in full:

Dear Donald

It was good to see you again at the European Council this week where we agreed the historic new deal to permit the orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union on October 31.

I am deeply grateful to you, President Juncker and to all my fellow European leaders for the statesmanship and statecraft which enabled us to achieve this historic milestone. I should also register my appreciation for Michel Barnier and his team for their imagination and diplomacy as we concluded the negotiations.

When I spoke in Parliament this morning, I noted the corrosive impact of the long delay in delivering the mandate of the British people from the 2016 referendum. I made clear that, while I believe passionately that both the UK and the EU will benefit from our decision to withdraw and develop a new relationship, that relationship will be founded on our deep respect and affection for our shared culture, civilisation, values and interests.

We will remain the EU's closest partner and friend. The deal we approved at last week's European Council is a good deal for the whole of the UK and the whole of the EU.

Regrettably, Parliament missed the opportunity to inject momentum into the ratification process for the new Withdrawal Agreement. The UK Parliament Representative will therefore submit the request mandated by the EU (Withdrawal) (No.2) Act 2019 later today.

It is, of course, for the European Council to decide when to consider the request and whether to grant it. In view of the unique circumstances, while I regret causing my fellow leaders to devote more of their time and energy to a question I had hoped we had resolved last week, I recognise that you may need to convene a European Council.

If it would be helpful to you, I would of course be happy to attend the start of any A50 Council so that I could answer properly any question on the position of HM Government and progress in the ratification process at that time.

Meanwhile, although I would have preferred a different result today, the Government will press ahead with ratification and introduce the necessary legislation early next week. I remain confident that we will complete that process by 31 October.

Indeed, many of those who voted against the Government today have indicated their support for the new deal and for ratifying it without delay. I know that I can count on your support and that of our fellow leaders to move the deal forward, and I very much hope therefore that on the EU side also, the process can be completed to allow the agreement to enter into force, as the European Council Conclusions mandated.

While it is open to the European Council to accede to the request mandated by Parliament or to offer an alternative extension period, I have made clear since becoming Prime Minister, and made clear to Parliament again today, my view, and the Government's position, that a further extension would damage the interests of the UK and our EU partners, and the relationship between us.

We must bring this process to a conclusion so that we can move to the next phase and build our new relationship on the foundations of our long history as neighbours and friends in this continent our peoples share. I am passionately committed to that endeavour.

I am copying this letter to Presidents Juncker and Sassoli, and to members of the European Council.

Yours sincerely

Boris Johnson

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