Brussels ambassadors have agreed that an extension to Britain’s membership of the EU is needed, but a decision on the length will not be made until next week.
The EU 27 accepted the “principle of an extension” and their work will continue in the “coming days”, a European Commission spokeswoman said.
Boris Johnson was forced by UK Parliament to request a Brexit delay until January 31, and UK Chancellor Sajid Javid conceded today that the Halloween deadline had now slipped away.
However, Mr Johnson has insisted Brexit could still take place on October 31.
“Of course October 31 is still possible. We could leave on October 31,” he said.
“Unfortunately it depends on what the EU says. We’re in a situation now in which under the terms of the surrender Act which was passed by Parliament it is up to the EU to decide whether or not we stay in the EU.”
Mr Johnson has offered MPs more time to consider his Brexit deal if they agreed to an election on December 12.
But Labour – whose votes will be needed if he is to get the two-thirds majority in the Commons which he requires to go the country – has yet to say what it would do.
Jeremy Corbyn said that – if a January extension is granted – he would support an election provided Mr Johnson makes it “absolutely clear” the UK would not crash out of the bloc.
“I’ve said all along – take no deal off the table, and we’ll have the election,” he told ITV’s This Morning.
But there are concerns in Whitehall that if ministers cannot get the Withdrawal Agreement Bill through now, they will be facing the prospect of yet another extension beyond January 31, with the possibility MPs could again take control of the Commons timetable to pass a “Benn Act 2”.
Following the meeting of EU ambassadors today, the European Commission’s chief spokeswoman Mina Andreeva told a Brussels press briefing: “The EU 27 have agreed to the principle of an extension and work will now continue in the coming days.”
She said their intention was to take the decision by a written procedure, reducing the likelihood of an emergency EU summit next week – just days before Britain is currently due to leave.
An EU source said the ambassadors’ meeting was constructive and there was “full agreement” on the need for an extension. They are expected to meet again on Monday or Tuesday to finalise an agreement.
UK Chancellor Mr Javid said the stalemate over Brexit had reduced Westminster to a “zombie parliament”, and that it was now up to Labour to end the deadlock by agreeing to go back to the country.
"This zombie Parliament is paralysed, totally dysfunctional."
Chancellor @sajidjavid says the government will continue to push for a general election "again and again". For other business "we'll have to wait and see" #r4today | https://t.co/xRgefLGeFn | @marthakearney pic.twitter.com/msn1nU7BjW— BBC Radio 4 Today (@BBCr4today) October 25, 2019
With the Budget scheduled for November 6 having already been cancelled, he suggested ministers would put other government business on hold until the issue was resolved.
“The Opposition have said, week after week, that if there is a delay of three months, which is what they requested through Parliament, then they will vote for a general election, so let’s see if they keep their word,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“And if they don’t then we will keep bringing back to Parliament a motion to have an election – and we will keep doing that again and again.
“As for other parliamentary business, we’ll have to wait and see what that is, and we will react to it at that time.”
While some around the UK Labour leader back a snap election, many Labour MPs are bitterly opposed to a poll, fearing confusion over the party’s position on Brexit will cost them at the ballot box.
Mr Corbyn said the December 12 date was “really odd for many reasons”, and suggested he may prefer to go to the country earlier.
Mr Javid said that if Labour MPs do not trust the Government, they should agree to a general election.
“They can’t have it both ways,” he said.
“They can’t, on the one hand, make Parliament deliberately dysfunctional, turn it into a zombie parliament so we can’t get on with the business of governing, and, on the other hand, refuse to actually then have an election and bring an end to it.”
The British Prime Minister was forced by Parliament to write to Brussels requesting the delay after failing to win approval for his deal at last weekend’s special Saturday sitting.
However, many MPs say his proposed election timetable – which would require them to complete the ratification of his deal by November 6 when Parliament would be dissolved – still does not allow time for proper scrutiny.