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  1. ITV Report

Number 10 source: PM will immediately go for election if EU grants three-month Brexit delay

European Council President Donald Tusk has backed a UK request for a Brexit extension after Boris Johnson announced a “pause” on his Withdrawal Agreement Bill.

The prime minister said debate on the bill would be deferred until the EU reaches a decision on a Brexit extension, which he requested on Saturday after being forced by Parliament.

Tuesday marked the first time parliamentarians voted in favour of any Brexit deal in principle, but crucially MPs rejected the proposed three-day timetable to debate it, which is likely to lead to a delay past the October 31 deadline.

Mr Tusk later tweeted he would recommend to the EU27 they should accept an extension to Brexit in order to avoid a no-deal exit.

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ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston said Mr Tusk's endorsement accelerated Mr Johnson's plans to push for a General Election and raised the pressure on the opposition.

Peston tweeted confirmation from a Number 10 source that the PM would be pursuing a snap election if Brussels grant him a three-month delay.

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ITV News Correspondent Angus Walker meanwhile quoted an EU source as saying the Tusk recommendation endorsed an effective "flextension" which would end if and when a Brexit deal was approved.

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How close were the two votes on the Brexit bill?

MPs' approval of the WAB is only the second out of 12 votes that Mr Johnson has won since he became Prime Minister in July.

It cleared its first Commons hurdle after MPs approved giving it a second reading by 329 votes to 299, a majority of 30.

30
The majority of MPs who approved the WAB.
14
The majority of MPs who rejected the three-day timetable to debate it.

But the narrow victory wasn't much cause for excitement on the government's part as it was defeated in the second vote by an even tighter margin.

The government lost its attempt to fast-track the bill through the Commons by 322 votes to 308, a majority of 14.

How did Boris Johnson react to the defeat?

The PM spent hours trying to convince MPs to back his Withdrawal Agreement Bill and the timetable proposed for its debate. Credit: House of Commons

"Let me be clear," Mr Johnson said, "our policy remains that we should not delay, that we should leave the EU on October 31 and that is what I will say to the EU and I will report back to the House.

"And one way or another we will leave the EU with this deal, to which this House has just given its assent.

"And I thank members across the House for that hard-won agreement."

Mr Johnson told MPs: "I will speak to EU member states about their intentions. Until they have reached a decision we will pause this legislation."

What was notable about what the PM did - and didn't - say?

Earlier the prime minister warned MPs if the timetable is rejected and the European Union confirms a delay to January or later, then the government will press for a snap election.

However, as ITV News Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt noted, Mr Johnson did not mention an election once in his after vote statement.

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Hewitt also pointed out that the PM told MPs the UK "will leave with this deal" - but unusually he didn't say that would by October 31st.

ITV News Correspondent Paul Brand also noticed the omission as he lined up the next steps for the PM.

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While ITV News Political Correspondent Libby Wiener noted the Halloween departure date was very much in flux.

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What has the reaction been in the Commons and beyond?

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn offered to work with the prime minister in order to agree a "reasonable timetable" for the Withdrawal Agreement Bill. In a day of hot debate in the Commons MPs had criticised the proposed three-day timetable as being too short to allow for proper scrutiny.

Mr Corbyn, in his point of order following the vote, told MPs "the prime minister is the author of his own misfortune".

He said the WAB is a "hugely significant piece of legislation" that could not be debated "with barely any notice".

He proposed to the government work with "all of us" to create a timetable that will allow MPs to "debate, scrutinise and, I hope, commend the detail of this Bill".

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar welcomed MPs approval of the WAB "by a clear majority", but confirmed an extension will now be discussed in Brussels.

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He tweeted: "We will now await further developments from London and Brussels about next steps including timetable for the legislation and the need for an extension."

Leader of the Liberal Democrats Jo Swinson said the result meant Mr Johnson "has failed to force his bad Brexit deal through this House without adequate scrutiny".

She continued: "Is it not time to end the brinkmanship and replace it with some statesmanship, to seriously and respectfully engage with our European friends to secure and extension to Article 50 to enable this House to pass legislation for a people's vote?

"Or, if he prefers, to have proper scrutiny of his Bill, or indeed it may well be for a general election.

"All of those things require a decent extension to Article 50, he should be a statesman and go and secure it."

The DUP's Deputy Leader Nigel Dodds said: "It is perfectly proper and right and the House has made a very wise decision to allow further time for detailed examination of some of the most important legislation that we will ever have to consider, particularly given the impact on Northern Ireland.

"And at this stage I would say to the Prime Minister, as he reflects on the votes on Saturday and he studies the votes tonight, that he would sit down and talk to us again about what can be done, even at this late stage, to ensure that we join in this great quest to get Brexit done, but as one United Kingdom."

Nigel Farage tweeted: "Do or die is over, we have now moved on to dying in a ditch. We will not be leaving the EU on 31st October."

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The SNP's Westminster leader Ian Blackford labelled the result "yet another humiliating defeat for the prime minister".

He claimed Mr Johnson had "sought to railroad through this House legislation that requires proper scrutiny," and said the PM must now confirm an extension with the EU.

Father of the House Ken Clarke said: "Can I ask the Prime Minister and everybody else to reconsider the suggestion he made that we pause the progress of the Bill tomorrow?"

He added: "I can't quite see the logic of pausing progress on the Bill when the whole House is expecting the next two days to be spent on it."

Speaker of the House John Bercow said the correct Parliamentary term for the Bill being paused was that it is now "in limbo".

He told MPs: "Just in case there is any doubt, the technical term for the status of the Bill at present is that the Bill is in limbo".