Brexit delay in EU hands as Boris Johnson mulls General Election

By Rob Picheta, CNN

Updated 10:09 a.m. ET, October 23, 2019
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10:09 a.m. ET, October 23, 2019

We're pausing our live coverage for now

TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images
TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images

Lawmakers have stuck their teeth into a debate on Boris Johnson's Queen's Speech, and the issue of Brexit is momentarily on the backburner.

That will change very soon, of course; EU leaders are currently weighing up Britain's request for another extension to the process, the length and format of which will heavily shape the next steps.

A general election is still on the cards too, and Johnson flirted with the idea of calling one in Parliament earlier -- but he hasn't done so yet.

But for now, we're closing down our live coverage.

9:42 a.m. ET, October 23, 2019

Labour rebel suffers abuse for supporting Brexit bill

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has defended rebel MPs in his own party from abuse, after 19 voted in favor of Boris Johnson's Brexit deal last night.

Lisa Nandy, one of those who went against the party whip, shared two emails she received on Twitter this morning that called her "scum" and a "traitor" for supporting the bill.

A spokesperson for Corbyn told the PA news agency: "He has made very clear that there shouldn't be abuse inside the Labour Party or inside politics and that we would seek to rely on persuasion to keep the Labour Party together in this process and that's what we've done all the way through."

Nandy has also stressed on Twitter that she only backed the bill to get it to the stage in Parliament where it can be amended and altered.

8:24 a.m. ET, October 23, 2019

Here's what you need to know about Brexit today

Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street on his way to Parliament on Wednesday morning.
Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street on his way to Parliament on Wednesday morning. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

One step forward, two steps back. That seems to be the pace at which the UK is moving towards its exit from the European Union, even as it nears its current Brexit deadline at the end of the month.

The on-again, off-again process took another twist on Tuesday, as Boris Johnson finally won a vote on a Brexit deal in Parliament -- only to have his hopes dashed minutes later, when MPs rejected his three-day timetable to rush the legislation through the Commons.

Johnson responded by "pausing" the process, while London waits to see whether the EU will grant an extension to the October 31 deadline.

Here's an explainer on what you need to know about Brexit today.

7:53 a.m. ET, October 23, 2019

Johnson refuses to relax his Halloween deadline

Boris Johnson refused to give up on his October 31 Brexit deadline after being asked whether he would relax his timetable for the votes on his deal.

Ken Clarke, the Father of the House (longest serving MP) and former Conservative, suggested Johnson bring back a timetable more acceptable to lawmakers to get his deal over the line.

But Johnson deferred to the awaited EU decision on whether to grant the UK a Brexit delay. "Alas, we cannot now know what the EU will do in response to the request from Parliament" for an extension, he said, adding: "I stress, it wasn't my request."

"I don't think that people of this country want a delay, I don't want a delay, I intend to press on, but I'm afraid we now have to see what our EU friends will decide on our behalf," Johnson added. 

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn earlier met with Johnson's team, also attempting to work out an alternative timetable for the bill. But the meeting appears to have ended without an agreement.

A Labour spokesperson said after the talks: "Jeremy Corbyn reiterated Labour’s offer to the Prime Minister to agree a reasonable timetable to debate, scrutinise and amend the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, and restated that Labour will support a general election when the threat of a no-deal crash out is off the table."

7:33 a.m. ET, October 23, 2019

Johnson flirts with calling general election

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn asks Boris Johnson whether he still "agrees with himself" after the Prime Minister ruled out putting a customs border in the Irish Sea, before doing just that in his Brexit deal.

"I believe that the Union is preserved," Johnson says. "I think it's a bit rich to hear from (Corbyn) about his sentimental attachment to the fabric of the union ... when he has spent most of his political lifetime supporting the IRA," Johnson adds, to cheers from his backbenchers.

"The United Kingdom is preserved whole and entire by these arrangements," the PM adds.

Johnson is then asked by Scottish National Party lawmaker Ian Blackford whether the Scottish Parliament will have any say in the Brexit process.

The Prime Minister predictably says no, but he then adds that Blackford's party and other opposition groups should back his offer of a general election.

It's notable that Johnson isn't walking back his election rhetoric, given that it now looks a far more realistic prospect if the EU grants a Brexit delay.

Blackford follows up by urging Johnson to indeed call for a poll. "What an exciting development," Johnson replies. "Perhaps he might pass some of his courage down the line."

Johnson then takes a question from one of his backbenchers, asking when Britain will leave the EU.

He starts his answer by repeating his favorite slogan -- before adding a rather important caveat. "We will leave the EU on October 31, if honorable members opposite will comply," Johnson says.

7:19 a.m. ET, October 23, 2019

Corbyn hits Johnson on NHS

Jeremy Corbyn is focusing on the issue of healthcare in PMQs, accusing Boris Johnson to failing to stem a creeping privatization of the UK's National Health Service (NHS).

Corbyn notes that Johnson's Withdrawal Agreement Bill fails to protect against the NHS being put on the table in future trade deals after Brexit.

Johnson rejects the accusation and touts his own health policies.

"I understand his visceral dislike of America an his visceral dislike of free trade," Johnson responds to the question on trade deals.

"I actually asked the Prime Minister which clause in the bill protects our NHS," Corbyn retorts.

Corbyn is refusing to hammer Johnson directly on his Brexit strategy -- which could have been a fragile position after a number of his own MPs back Johnson's bill last night.

But his attempts to connect Brexit with the NHS could be a preview of his party's messaging in an upcoming election.

7:09 a.m. ET, October 23, 2019

Sack your adviser, Boris Johnson told at PMQs

TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images
TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images

Boris Johnson was urged to "get rid of Dominic Cummings," his adviser and the supposed mastermind of his Brexit strategy, at the start of Prime Minister Questions.

"I receive excellent advice from a wide range of advisers," he responded to Labour MP Rupa Huq, who asked the unexpected first question.

"It is the role of advisers to advise and government to decide ... I take full responsibility for everything this government does," Johnson added.

7:02 a.m. ET, October 23, 2019

HAPPENING NOW: Boris Johnson faces Jeremy Corbyn in PMQs

The Prime Minister is taking a grilling in Parliament from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and other MPs. Follow live updates here.

6:50 a.m. ET, October 23, 2019

What Brussels is saying about a Brexit delay

European Union leaders are weighing up the UK's request for another Brexit extension, with the general consensus being that they will grant a flexible delay which would be broken if Parliament approves a deal.

Annika Breidthardt, a European Commission spokesperson, said on Wednesday: “We take note of the votes the House of Commons last night. President Tusk is now consulting EU27 leaders on the UK’s request to extend article 50 the 31st January 2020 and you will have seen that he tweeted last night. It is therefore first and foremost the UK to explain its next steps. We will continue to follow all events in London this week very closely.”

David Sassoli, the European Parliament President, added in a statement after last night's votes in the House of Commons: "After the vote of the British Parliament to allow more time to examine details of the withdrawal agreement and Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to pause the bill following the vote, the British government’s request for an extension until January 31 remains on the table.

I think it is advisable, as requested by President Donald Tusk, that the European Council should accept this extension.

“This extension will allow the United Kingdom to clarify its position and the European Parliament to exercise its role.”