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Latest Brexit twist leaves EU expecting another delay

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After an ill-tempered debate in Parliament on Wednesday, Mr Johnson has told Tory MPs he would not be bullied into changing the way that he speaks.

Brussels

A DAMNING UK Supreme Court ruling against British Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week has rekindled discussion within the European Union about another delay to Brexit, with the bloc drawing a line in the sand of mid-2020 at the latest.

The British parliament resumed on Wednesday after the court ruled that the chamber had been unlawfully suspended by Mr Johnson, who insists that he will take Britain out of the EU on Oct 31 - with or without a deal to manage the fallout.

But British lawmakers reject the most damaging, no-deal Brexit. And now that they are back at work, they will have the chance to upset Mr Johnson's plans.

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With the divorce deal stalled, the EU is expecting another delay to Britain's departure date after it was already postponed twice from the original March deadline.

"We are in favour of an extension if we also see what is the way forward - will there be a general election, a second referendum, will there be a Withdrawal Agreement," said Guy Verhofstadt, an EU lawmaker dealing with Brexit.

"I think that there is unanimity . . . to say 'OK, let's go forward with an extension if there is a clear path to a solution and unwinding of the situation we have today'," he told EU lawmakers on Wednesday afternoon.

With a national election expected in Britain by the end of the year, the bloc currently sees that as the most likely justification of anther lag - a decision that would require the unanimity of the 27 states staying on.

The problem is, however, that Britain would need to request such an extension, which Mr Johnson has vowed never to do - and now EU Brexit watchers are speculating about him possibly stepping aside to let someone else make the step.

Under the law, the EU could also formally demand a delay - which Britain would need to agree to for it to take effect.

But diplomats and officials dealing with Brexit in the bloc's hub Brussels ruled out such a possibility, saying that it would risk feeding Mr Johnson's rhetoric about distant elites trying to frustrate the will of the people.

With many question marks over the fate of Brexit lingering three years since Britons voted to leave, the EU leaders' meeting in Brussels on Oct 17-18 will discuss the desirable length of any such delay.

The British prime minister will not be allowed in the room.

The House of Commons has passed a law demanding that London seeks a postponement until the end of January 2020 to avoid an abrupt split on Oct 31 should no new divorce deal be reached at the EU summit in three weeks' time.

"January may be a bit too soon for us," said one EU diplomat. "It is far from clear that Britain would be able to sort itself out by then, and we would risk another summit at the turn of the year to push back another no-deal prospect."

"A six-month delay until the end of March might be better for us," the diplomat said under condition of anonymity.

Brexit weighs heavily on the EU's work on its next long-term budget from 2021, and several diplomats said there could be no more extensions beyond mid-2020, when the bloc needs to have clarity on whether Britain would go on paying.

Mr Johnson on Thursday lost yet another vote in parliament over a government request for a three-day recess to allow his Conservative party to hold its annual conference.

This followed an ill-tempered debate on Wednesday in which Mr Johnson used terms such as "betray", "surrender" and "sabotage" to describe opponents blocking his path for exiting the EU.

He did not use the term "Benn Act", as others did, to describe the legislation that will require him to seek a three-month extension to Brexit, if he has not struck a deal with the EU by Oct 19. Instead, he called it the "Surrender Act", "Humiliation Act" and "Capitulation Act."

He dismissed MPs' concerns that his war-like language was fuelling violence and division.

Mr Johnson later told Tory MPs that he would not be bullied into changing the way that he speaks. He said he wants a deal, but agreement with the EU is not close. REUTERS, BLOOMBERG