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Thu, 3 December 2020

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General election looms as Donald Tusk says he will ask EU leaders to back three-month Brexit delay

General election looms as Donald Tusk says he will ask EU leaders to back three-month Brexit delay
3 min read

Donald Tusk will call on EU leaders to grant Britain a three-month Brexit delay after MPs voted down Boris Johnson’s plan to get a deal in place by 31 October.


In a move that dramatically increases the chances of an election before Christmas, the European Council President said he would recommend the fresh pause in a bid "to avoid a no-deal Brexit".

A Number 10 source meanwhile said the "only way the country can move on" would be through an election if the delay is granted.

The intervention came after the House of Commons voted 322 to 308 against a government "programme motion" on the timetable for the Withdrawal Agreement Bill.

That defeat came despite MPs backing the general principles of the flagship Brexit bill at second reading, ensuring it cleared its first parliamentary hurdle.

The Prime Minister "paused" the Bill following the defeat on the plan to sign off the legislation in three days.

After the result, Mr Tusk tweeted: "Following PM Boris Johnson's decision to pause the process of ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement, and in order to avoid a no-deal Brexit, I will recommend the EU27 accept the UK request for an extension.  For this I will propose a written procedure."

Irish Prime Minister Taoiseach Leo Varadkar meanwhile said: "It's welcome that the House of Commons voted by a clear majority in favour of legislation needed to enact Withdrawal Agreement. 

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

'BLEW ITS LAST CHANCE'

Downing Street has already made clear that the Prime Minister will press ahead with a fresh bid to call a general election if the delay is granted.

A Number 10 source said: "On Saturday Parliament asked for a delay until January and today Parliament blew its last chance. If Parliament's delay is agreed by Brussels, then the only way the country can move on is with an election. This Parliament is broken."

Any request for a further extension to Article 50 has to be approved unanimously by the European Council, which brings together all EU heads of state and government.

Mr Johnson wrote to EU leaders to ask for an extension on Saturday after MPs beefed up the Benn Act aimed at averting a no-deal outcome.

While the letter was unsigned and coupled with a covering letter from the Prime Minister arguing against the delay, the EU has been waiting on the outcome of the votes in the Commons before deciding how to respond.

MPs have previously rejected two attempts by the Prime Minister to trigger a general election, with Labour arguing that a no-deal Brexit must be ruled out before it will back holding one.

Labour's stance on the staging of an election was meanwhile the subject of a heated dispute at a Shadow Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, PoliticsHome has learned

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