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Boris Johnson asks EU for extension after Brexit vote fails

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson sent a letter to the European Union requesting an extension to the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline, according to a Tweet from European Council President Donald Tusk, who said he would begin consultations with EU leaders on how to respond.

The first letter wasn't signed by Johnson and was followed by another one that was saying that he believes a delay would be a mistake, according to numerous media reports, citing a Downing Street official. Johnson had previously said he would rather "die in a ditch" than ask the EU for an extension.

Johnson earlier told Parliament that he will not "negotiate" an extension to Article 50 with the EU, after MPs voted to delay implementation of his Brexit bill until after the necessary legislation had passed. He was legally required to send the letter according to the Benn Act, passed by MPs in September to stop the U.K. from crashing out of the EU without a deal if one had not been passed by Oct. 19.

The government planned to hold a vote on Johnson's Brexit deal today but changed tack after the passing of the so-called Letwin Amendment by 322 votes to 306, which sought to delay the vote and trigger the Benn Act.

The loss is a blow to Johnson as he seeks to fulfill his pledge to exit the EU by Oct. 31 with or without a deal. After the vote, he said he was not "daunted or dismayed" and that he would continue to try to get his "excellent deal" passed.

"I will not negotiate a delay with the EU and neither does the law compel me to do," he said, leaving commentators wondering whether he would comply with the letter of the law by requesting an extension but then refusing to engage in the process of getting one, or whether he would decline to send a letter at all.

The Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg said at the end of the parliamentary session that the government would bring the Brexit bill back for a vote on Monday, Oct. 21. It is not clear whether Johnson's deal is likely to pass after he lost the support of Northern Irish unionist party, the DUP.

The vote happened during the first session of Parliament to be held on a Saturday since before the Falklands War in 1982. It followed five hours of debate during which the opposition Labour party argued against the bill on the grounds that it would leave the door open for the U.K. to weaken workers' rights and lead to regulatory divergence with the EU. The deal was also opposed by the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party and the DUP.

There is no guarantee that an extension will be granted by the governments of the EU, who would have to unanimously back the proposal. However, the EU has until now been keen to avoid the economic chaos that is expected to accompany a no-deal Brexit.