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France threatens to push back against long extension as Brexit hot potato back in EU hands

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France threatens to push back against long extension as Brexit hot potato back in EU hands
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REUTERS/Vincent Kessler
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The Brexit hot potato is back in EU hands after a crucial vote in the UK Parliament on Tuesday night made it unlikely the country could leave the EU by October 31.

British MPs voted on Tuesday evening in favour of advancing Brexit legislation to the next stage in Parliament but rejected the government's accelerated timeline for the bill that would have it pass through the House of Commons by Thursday.

Now Westminster awaits a decision from Brussels.

"I will speak to EU member states about their intentions until they have reached a decision. Until they have reached a decision, I must say we will pause this legislation," Johnson told the House of Commons.

The prime minister's spokesman said later that Johnson had spoken to Angela Merkel and told the German Chancellor that he did not think the UK's exit from the EU should be delayed beyond October 31 — adding that there was a majority in parliament for his deal.

Boris Johnson has however been forced to request an extension under the law, in the absence of parliamentary approval for an accord.

The European Parliament said on Thursday that they supported a "flexible extension" that could end before the end of January with the heads of European political groups recommending that European Council President Donald Tusk accept the UK's request.

"This extension will allow the United Kingdom to clarify its position and the European Parliament to properly exercise its role," said European Parliament President David Sassoli in a move that is sure to put pressure on the European Council that could come to a decision on Friday at an ambassador's meeting.

The European Parliament will have to consent to any Brexit act and political group leaders said Parliament's consent procedure "would begin only after the ratification" of Brexit legislation by the UK parliament.

Tusk also said earlier in the week he would recommend that European leaders accept the United Kingdom's request.

It is not clear if the member states would meet at an emergency summit before October 31 to decide on an extension or whether they would agree on the matter by that is known as "written procedure".

There appears to be potential push-back from France on granting Britain a three-month extension or even a longer one.

Speaking before the Senate on Tuesday, French Deputy Minister for European Affairs Amelie de Montchalin said Paris was ready to grant a "technical" extension for "a few days" so the UK parliament could complete the ratification process but would oppose a broader extension intended to "rediscuss the agreement."

"We're being asked for an extension: for what purpose? What is the justification?," French minister for European affairs Amelie de Montchalin said, according to a transcript provided by her spokesman.

"We know that time alone won't provide the solution, but a political decision. We can't extend this situation indefinitely," she said.

Germany said on Wednesday they would be open to granting Britain a short-term extension if it's for the right political reason.

Speaking to German media, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said: "We need to know: What will be the reason for this? If it will be about pushing back the date by two or three weeks to allow lawmakers in London to implement the ratification of the exit bill in a reasonable way, I think this will rather not be a problem."

The extension must be approved by all 27 members of the remaining member states.

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar welcomed the support for the deal in the Commons, saying: "We will now await further developments from London and Brussels about next steps including timetable for the legislation and the need for an extension," Varadkar said.

A European Commission spokesperson tweeted that the EU "takes note" of the result of the vote and expects the UK government to "inform us about the next steps".

Tusk is still "consulting leaders on the UK's request for an extension until 31 January 2020," Mina Andreeva, the chief spokeswoman of the EU Commission tweeted.

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier did not respond to reporter questions after the vote, according to the BBC. But Barnier told the European Parliament earlier in the day that the transition period could go beyond December 2020."

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