British PM sends unsigned letter seeking Brexit delay – World

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson reluctantly wrote to Brussels late on Saturday requesting an extension of Brexit after parliamentarians voted to force him to seek a delay beyond October 31.

But Johnson, who set his position as prime minister to get Britain out of the European Union on time, refused to sign the letter he sent to the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk.

The conservative leader also sent a second signed letter insisting that he was not seeking an extension to the Brexit deadline, which has already been postponed twice.

On a day of great drama in the House of Commons, parliamentarians refused to endorse the revised withdrawal agreement that Johnson reached with the EU this week until the legislation needed to ratify it has passed.

Having not supported a divorce agreement, they unleashed a law that forced Johnson to write to EU leaders at the end of the day asking to delay Brexit, to avoid the risk of Britain falling in less than fifteen days.

Johnson sent a photocopy of the letter contained in the law that requires him to request the delay, but did not sign it, he showed a copy published by his Downing Street office early Sunday.

He wrote and signed another letter that made it clear that he does not want to delay Brexit beyond the end of this month.

"Unfortunately, parliament lost the opportunity to inject momentum into the ratification process," Johnson wrote in the signed letter, regretting that EU leaders now have to devote even more time to Brexit.

"An additional extension would damage the interests of the United Kingdom and our EU partners, and the relationship between us. We must conclude this process."

However, Johnson said he was still "sure" of completing the ratification process before October 31.

A third letter of introduction written by Britain's ambassador to the EU, Tim Barrow, made it clear that the Brexit delay request letter was only sent to comply with the law.

Tusk consults the heads of the EU

"I will now start consulting EU leaders on how to react," Tusk said on Twitter.

An EU source said AFP that the process "may take a few days" and refused to comment on the non-signature.

A spokeswoman for Downing Street said the prime minister had spoken with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and Tusk.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he had discussed the situation with Johnson and "wished him success in the next stages" in the Commons.

Being forced to send the letter after Saturday's defeat was a blow to Johnson, who previously said he would rather be "dead in a ditch" than prolong the tortuous process of ending the 46-year British membership in the EU.

Brussels urged Britain to explain its plan as soon as possible, while Macron's office said a further delay to Brexit "doesn't interest anyone."

Johnson defeated 322-306

Securing the new divorce treaty at the EU summit on Thursday had been a personal victory for the prime minister, a decorative figure in the Leave campaign in the EU membership referendum of Great Britain in 2016.

He had spent 48 hours frantically trying to persuade parliamentarians to support him, and he got the support of many of the Eurosceptic conservatives who had rejected three times a previous divorce agreement secured by his predecessor Theresa May.

But parliament, like the frustrated public, is still bitterly divided on how and even if Britain should end decades of integration with its closest business partner.

Parliamentarians voted 322 to 306 to support a motion by former conservative minister Oliver Letwin that "retains approval (of the agreement) unless and until the implementation legislation is passed."

They met on a Saturday for the first time since the Falklands War of 1982.

While parliamentarians voted inside parliament, outside, more than 100,000 people marched to demand a new referendum that could reverse Brexit.

Protesters burst into cheers at the news inside the Commons.

"That's really good, it's one step away from Brexit," said protester Philip Dobson AFP.

"Reject Brexit", "Put it on the people" and "Stop This Madness" read some of the posters in the mass march, where many protesters also waved EU flags.

Legislation next week

The British government will present legislation next week to implement the divorce agreement, with a first vote as early as Tuesday.

The government also wants another vote on the agreement on Monday, which may not be possible.

There is a possibility that the agreement will be approved, and Britain could still leave the EU on October 31, but there is still strong opposition to the agreement between parliamentarians.



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