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  1. ITV Report

EU leaders unlikely to make call on Brexit extension until Friday

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Libby Weiner

Two of the EU's most influential characters have urged the bloc's 27 leaders to grant a UK request for a Brexit extension.

The presidents of the European Parliament and European Council - David Sassoli and Donald Tusk - have both recommended that a three-month delay request be accepted, meaning Brexit would be delayed until January 31 2020.

However, it's unknown what kind of extension Prime Minister Boris Johnson will get until Friday.

French president Emmanuel Macron has pushed back on his EU counterparts on the three-month extension grant, voicing his concerns about granting a long delay in the process, particularly if Mr Johnson was to call a general election.

The length of the extension will determine when the PM will call for a general election, and with Mr Johnson favouring a general election sooner rather than later, it's created yet another standoff between the EU and the UK.

Is an election likely to happen in the autumn or winter? Credit: PA

Boris Johnson has told Mr Tusk in a phone call that there should be no Brexit delay, and that it is in the EU and UK's interests that Britain leaves the bloc on October 31, Downing Street said.

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, the man credited with making the PM's Brexit deal possible, said he supports extending the UK's Brexit deadline.

After MPs approved Mr Johnson's Withdrawal Agreement Bill but rejected a three-day timetable proposed for its debate, the PM “paused” the bill and said he would seek a general election if the EU granted an extension . A Number 10 source said it "looks like" the EU will offer a Brexit delay to January 31, adding: "In that point we know what will always happen: this broken Parliament will always vote for delay rather than a deal.

"Therefore, if this Parliament is unwilling to vote for a deal, then we will have to go to a general election."

And it looks like that could happen, with European Parliament President Sassoli writing on Twitter that it's "advisable" for European leaders to accept a Brexit extension until January 31.

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European Council President Donald Tusk echoed Mr Sassoli, saying he explained to Mr Johnson over the phone why he was "recommending the EU27 accept the UK request for an extension".

The prime minister's official spokesman updated reporters on the phone call, saying Mr Johnson "continues to believe that there should be no extension and that it is in the interests of both (the EU) and the United Kingdom for us to leave on October 31."

Mr Johnson also spoke to German chancellor Angela Merkel for around 10 minutes on Wednesday afternoon and told her the same thing, Number 10 said.

Ireland's Varadkar said he had been contacted by Mr Tusk who told him to back the UK's extension request.

Speaking during Taoiseach's Questions in the Irish Parliament on Wednesday, Mr Varadkar said: "I agreed to that but that's not yet agreed by the 27, and we may have to have an emergency European Council over the course of the next few days to discuss it if he can't get consensus."

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Ireland deputy premier Simon Coveney has said a Brexit extension, if granted, is likely to be a flexible one that would allow the UK to leave the EU prior to the end of January.

The European Parliament's Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt echoed that, tweeting a "flextension, not going beyond the 31st Jan, is the only way forward".

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said: "As far as the request asked last week from the British Government for extension, it's for the EU27 to decide and there's a current consultation now launched by President Tusk."

However, if the EU does grant an extension and the PM goes for an election, it is not certain that he will succeed in calling one.

Under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, for an early general election to take place two-thirds of all MPs have to back it.

The PM has tried and failed twice for a general election, but he may succeed on the third attempt, with a Labour saying it would back a snap poll if a lengthy Brexit extension had been secured.

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Following a meeting with the PM, a Labour spokesperson said Mr Corbyn told Mr Johnson he'd back an election "when the threat of a no-deal crashout is off the table."

Labour shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said the party would only back an election if the EU granted one "until January - it can't just be an extension for a matter for weeks".

He added: "As soon as an extension is agreed, as soon as he can't push us out with no deal, we'll be backing a general election to get these Tories out."

But his Labour colleague Ben Bradshaw suggested this was not an opinion shared by a majority of opposition MPs.

Responding to a news story about Mr Burgon's call for an election, Mr Bradshaw said: "Richard will feel very lonely in the division lobby on this one."

Mr Burgon's counterpart in government, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said "the only way to break this deadlock is a general election" but questioned whether Labour would back one.

"We've already asked Parliament to vote for it twice, despite Labour's rhetoric they've refused to support that", he said, "let's see what they're made of now."

And he claimed a no-deal exit could still be on the cards, despite the PM being forced to request an extension.

He said: "At the moment we leave without a deal on October 31.

"We need to wait to see what the Europeans are going to say about any future deadline.

"Its very much their call and at the moment we are none the wiser as to what that position is."

Not only would a general election need to be supported by Labour, but it would also likely need support from the SNP.

Its leader Nicola Sturgeon said she will not support a general election until those opposed to no deal have managed to "absolutely secure an extension".

A senior Liberal Democrat source said Jo Swinson's party was "not scared" of a general election.

"Our priority remains getting a People's Vote, but we are not scared of a general election.

"Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn are Brexiteers, and we can't wait to take them on and show the country that we can stop Brexit and build a brighter future."

During PMQs Liberal Democrat leader Swinson accused Labour of helping the government to "push through his bad Brexit deal".

She said: "So, would the Prime Minister like to express his gratitude to the 19 Labour MPs who voted for his deal last night and the Leader of the Opposition for meeting with him this morning to help push through his bad Brexit deal?"

Despite calls for an election from across the House, ITV News Political Correspondent Paul Brand understands many MPs are trying to "shift the leadership towards backing a referendum instead of an election".

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.

Credit: PA Graphics

Despite repeatedly saying he would not ask the EU for a extension, Mr Johnson was forced to send a letter on Saturday requesting one after MPs rejected a meaningful vote on his Brexit deal.

The Prime Minister had hoped there would still be time to pass his Brexit deal by his deadline of October 31 and asked MPs to agree to a three-day debate on it after they passed it by 329 votes to 299 on Tuesday.

However, many argued this was not enough time, and rejected the Prime Minister's timeframe.

Mr Johnson then said he would "pause" his Brexit deal while he waited to hear back from the EU.

While EU leaders look set to grant an extension, it is not known how long they could grant, meaning the Brexit deal remains in limbo.