EU agrees to Brexit extension but defers decision on delay length

Boris Johnson has called for a snap election to be held on December 12

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks to pupils as he visits Middleton Primary School in Milton Keynes, southern England on October 25, 2019. 
 UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on October 24 proposed settling the Brexit crisis through an early election on December 12 that could help Britain finally find a way out of the European Union. / AFP / POOL / Paul Grover
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European Union ambassadors have agreed in principle to a UK request to extend the Halloween Brexit deadline, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for a snap election to be held on December 12.

Meeting in Brussels on Friday, the ambassadors decided to delay the decision on how long the extension should be.

"There was full agreement on the need for an extension," an EU official said.

"Work will continue over the weekend," he said, adding that the envoys would meet again in Brussels on Monday or Tuesday.

Under a UK parliamentary law known as the Benn Act, Mr Johnson had to request a Brexit extension until January 31 from the EU.

France was initially seen as reluctant to grant another delay fearing British indecisiveness would just continue.

After the UK prime minister made a fresh bid for an election on Thursday evening, France's European Affairs minister Amelie de Montchalin suggested that Paris wanted to wait and see what London's next steps were before granting the request.

“Our position is that simply giving more time, without political change, without ratification, without an election, would be useless,” she told RTL radio.

Announcing his plans to table a motion for an election next week, Mr Johnson said he would give Parliament additional time to debate his EU withdrawal agreement if they backed his poll call.

Parliament backed the withdrawal agreement in a vote this week but rejected the three-day timetable the prime minister gave to scrutinise the bill.

Mr Johnson wrote to opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn imploring him to back an early election and "get Brexit done".

But Mr Corbyn said no decision would be made until the threat of the UK leaving the EU without a deal on October 31 had been taken off the table.

Under the fixed-term parliaments act, two-thirds of MPs must agree for an early election to be held, meaning Labour would have to support Mr Johnson's motion.

For the first time, the UK government admitted that the country would not be leaving the EU on October 31, abandoning Mr Johnson's famous "do or die" pledge.

“We have to accept we won’t be able to leave on October 31,” Chancellor Sajid Javid told the BBC on Friday.

The pound, which reached a five-month high of $1.30 earlier in the week on hopes that a no-deal Brexit could be avoided, went into retreat Thursday. It held around the $1.2840 mark on Friday.