Closed Brexit: Boris Johnson weighs general election after defeat in parliament — as it happened


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Here we go again…

Welcome back to the FT Brexit blog on the heels of an exciting evening in Westminster. Boris Johnson’s landmark win in garnering support in the Commons for his Brexit bill — something his predecessor attempted three times — was sullied by MPs’ rejection of his accelerated timetable for passing the legislation.

The prime minister decided to “pause” progress on the bill, throwing the ball back in the EU’s court. Donald Tusk, European Council head, has said he would support a Brexit extension, past the October 31 deadline, in order to give Britain time to push the measure through. But he may face some resistance from France, which has consistently said it wants either no delay or a very short one.

Speculation is building on the domestic front on whether Mr Johnson or the Labour party will attempt to trigger elections before Christmas. At the very least, the prime minister may use the threat of elections to push the opposition Labour party into agreeing a rapid timetable for scrutinising the withdrawal bill.

Stick around here for all the developments from FT journalists in London, Brussels and beyond.

Pound extends decline away from six-month high

The pound, with a 0.1 per cent drop against the dollar in early London trading on Wednesday, has pulled away from the $1.30 threshold but nonetheless is hovering not far from a six-month high.

Sterling at $1.2856 and €1.1556 has fallen back from its highest level since May 8. It breached $1.30 on Monday and hit €1.1660 on October 17. It has risen 4.7 per cent this month against the US currency, putting it on track for its best month since January last year.

And for another great chart, take a look at this one created by the fastFT team last night:

Pound’s streak of big moves extended as Brexit timetable rejected

Labour party says it will support having general election

The opposition Labour party said it will back a general election after the EU grants another Brexit extension, one past the October 31 deadline for the UK to leave the bloc, Richard Burgon, the shadow justice secretary, said on Radio 4′s Today programme this morning.

“As soon as no-deal is off the table, we want a general election to get the Tories out as soon as possible,” Mr Burgon said on the BBC’s flagship morning radio programme.

We are not in the business of leaving the Conservatives in power. They’ve been in power for nine years, we want to get them out as soon as possible

What’s on today’s docket? Commons order paper

Moody’s gives UK ‘clear credit negative’ after Brexit vote

Moody’s has given the UK a “clear credit negative” as the ratings agency sees uncertainty around the “eventual outcome of Brexit” likely to weigh on spending, investment and hiring decisions in the country “for some time”.

Here’s what the ratings agency said after MPs last night backed Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal but thwarted his attempt to take the UK out of the EU on October 31:

The uncertainty around the eventual outcome of Brexit will likely weigh on spending, investment and hiring decisions in the UK for some time, a clear credit negative.

European Council president Donald Tusk proposed offering Mr Johnson an extension to the Halloween deadline until January 31. A snap election in the UK is back on the cards.

“In our view, the council will likely allow another extension in order to avoid a no-deal Brexit at the end of October,” the ratings agency said in a note after last night’s vote.

“If any of the 27 member states vetoes an extension, a no-deal Brexit would again become the default outcome,” its note to investors added.

That scenario would pose significant negative credit effects for the UK sovereign and other debt issuers; yet it seems relatively unlikely given the EU’s desire to avoid ‘choosing’ a no-deal Brexit.

During the transition, the UK and the EU would need to negotiate the terms of their future relationship; and that negotiation is unlikely to be any smoother than the Brexit process has been so far.

What analysts are saying about sterling

UBS on cable: “We retain our overweight position in sterling v the dollar… If, as now seems likely, we move in the direction of a general election, we expect GBPUSD to settle in a 1.26–1.32 range.”

UBS on the euro: “In the more likely case of further time needed to pass a deal, EURGBP should stay in a range around 0.86. The euro should rebound against many currencies in 2020, thereby offsetting GBP strength.”

We lower our EURGBP forecasts to 0.85 (from 0.87) through end-December and to 0.86 (0.89) at the close of the first three quarters of 2020.

Julius Baer: “With chances for the deal still alive but time constraints calling for a delay, we maintain our short-term neutral outlook for the GBP,” David Alexander Meier said in a note.

Long-term, we maintain a Bullish stance, as we continue to believe that the only path to Brexit leads through a deal.

The pound was recently down 0.1 per cent against the dollar at $1.2855 and had a similar move against the euro, trading at €1.1559.

Goldman sees limited appetite for pre-Brexit election

There is “insufficient appetite” in the House of Commons for an election before the UK departs the EU, according to an analysis by Goldman Sachs.

The New York-based investment bank reckons prime minister Boris Johnson will attempt to garner support for a new timetable for parliament to scrutinise his Brexit bill, after his plans to push it through at an aggressive pace were rejected in a vote in the House of Commons on Tuesday evening.

Adrian Paul, a Goldman economist, said after last night’s drama in Westminster he now expects the EU will offer an extension of the Brexit date from October 31, 2019 at present, to January 31, 2020.

He said he expects Mr Johnson to successfully garner parliamentary approval for the withdrawal bill even if MPs attempt to attach amendments to it as it moves through the legislative process.

European Parliament president supports extension

The president of the European Parliament has recommended the European Council accepts the UK’s request of an extension until January 31.

David Sassoli said:

“The British government’s request for an extension until January 31 remains on the table. I think it is advisable, as requested by President Donald Tusk, that the European Council should accept this extension. This extension will allow the United Kingdom to clarify its position and the European Parliament to exercise its role.”

The Benn Act forced the prime minister to request an extension through until the end of January, although the prime minister’s allies have since suggested that he would push for a general election rather than face months of delays to Brexit.

Emoticon Ireland supports extension to end of January

Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s prime minister, has said he supports a Brexit extension until the end of January next year.

In a statement issued on Wednesday following a call with European Council president Donald Tusk, Mr Vadakar also highlighted that the UK could leave earlier than January 31 if the withdrawal legislation – currently paused – makes it though parliament.

Here is the full statement:

“An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar spoke with the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk this morning regarding the UK’s request for an extension.

“The Taoiseach confirmed his support for President Tusk’s proposal to grant the request for an extension which was sought by the UK. They noted that it would still be possible for the UK to leave before January 31st 2020 if the Withdrawal Agreement has been ratified in advance of that date.

” The matter is likely to be discussed further at tonight’s meeting of the Committee of Permanent Representatives in Brussels.”

Sturgeon: extension should be long enough for election or referendum

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is speaking to journalists in central London, reports Laura Hughes.

Ms Sturgeon says an extension to Article 50 should be long enough to allow for an election, or a second referendum.

Or “perhaps more realistically”, she says, the former leading to the latter. She argues this is a bad Brexit deal and a bad bill.

Up to UK to explain next Brexit steps, says commission official

A European Commission spokeswoman said that “it is first and foremost for the UK to explain the next steps” on Brexit, reports Jim Brunsden from the commission’s midday briefing to journalists.

Ambassadors from the EU’s 27 other member states are set to meet at 5:30pm Brussels time to discuss the next steps.

Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, recommended yesterday that the union should grant Britain’s existing request to delay the UK’s departure from the bloc until January 31.

Influential German MP again backs extension — Twitter

Norbert Röttgen, chairman of the German Bundestag’s foreign affairs committee, tweeted on Wednesday in favour of a “long extension”, reiterating what he said at the beginning of this month.

On October 2, Germany and France envisaged a third extension of the UK’s departure date from the EU, after two previous delays in March and April.

Mr Röttgen, one of many influential EU politicians who had applauded the UK Supreme Court’s verdict last month that declared the Johnson government’s prorogation of parliament illegal, tweeted at the time that Boris Johnson’s latest Brexit plans were “not serious and violate the law”. The German MP added: “#EU should give long extension.”

Scottish and Welsh leaders to refuse support for Johnson’s bill

Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford, the first ministers of Scotland and Wales, have made clear their governments will refuse to give legislative consent to the prime minister’s Withdrawal Agreement Bill, reports Laura Hughes in London.

They have both said they would welcome a general election, but before committing to this position they want to see details of any extension agreed by Brussels. The two leaders were talking at a joint press conference in London.

Emoticon Johnson and Corbyn meet to discuss new Brexit timetable

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn were meeting this morning to discuss a new programme motion, which could see legislation for the Brexit deal brought back to the House of Commons for further debate and votes in the coming weeks, Sebastian Payne writes.

Following the meeting, reports Laura Hughes, a Labour party spokesperson said:

Jeremy Corbyn reiterated Labour’s offer to the prime minister to agree a reasonable timetable to debate, scrutinise and amend the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, and restated that Labour will support a general election when the threat of a no-deal crash-out is off the table.

The prime minister and opposition party leader met with respective aides Dominic Cummings and Seumas Milne, plus Tory chief whip Mark Spencer and Labour’s Nick Brown, a Downing Street spokesperson said.

If Mr Johnson and Mr Corbyn agree a new timetable for bringing back the withdrawal agreement for the committee stage and a third reading, they may yet avoid a general election before Brexit is resolved.

EU’s Barnier: Need more clarifications from UK

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, has said the bloc needs clarifications from the UK on its next steps before it can decide on a Brexit extension.

Speaking to Sky News in Brussels, he said:

“We need some clarification on the UK side what will be the next step for them.”

“As far as the request asked last week by the British government for the extension, it is for the EU27 to decide.”

Sturgeon wants election, maybe even one before Christmas

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said any extension granted should be long enough to allow a general election, even one before Christmas, or a referendum to be called, reports Laura Hughes.

I want to see a general election. I would be very happy to see that general election before Christmas, but the circumstances of that have to be such that it doesn’t open the risk of a no-deal Brexit.

I think all responsible opposition MPs who want to see an election have a duty to make sure that that is the case.

I think voters want to see a way out of this and certainly voters in Scotland do.

She added that the extension “should not just be long enough to scrutinise a bad Bill for a week or two longer”.

It should, in my view, be long enough to allow a general election or a referendum, or, perhaps more realistically, the former leading to the latter. That seems to me to be the only route out of this mess for the UK.

She was at a press conference with Mark Drakeford, her Welsh counterpart.

Johnson and Corbyn clash over Brexit bill

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn are sparring at PMQs, having spent this morning meeting to discuss a possible new timetable for parliamentary scrutiny of the Brexit bill.

Mr Johnson said it was “remarkable” that the House was able to pass the Withdrawal Agreement in principle, but regretted that it “willed the end but not the means” by blocking the programme motion vote.

“There is still time for [Corbyn] to do that and to explain to the people of this country how he proposes to honour his promise … and deliver on the will of the people and get Brexit done.”

Mr Corbyn said the government, not the opposition parties, delayed the progress of the bill by pausing it after losing control of the timing.

Corbyn throws Johnson ‘lifeline’, says Lib Dem leader Swinson

Jo Swinson, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said in response to today’s meeting between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn:

This is yet more clear proof that Jeremy Corbyn wants to deliver Brexit. Yesterday Boris Johnson’s deal passed because 19 Labour MPs walked through the lobby to vote for a Brexit deal that would be bad for our NHS, bad for our economy and bad for our environment.

It seems that Jeremy Corbyn has thrown Boris Johnson another lifeline this morning, as six white men met to discuss pushing through a Brexit deal which will wreck our country.

Jeremy Corbyn is a Brexiteer, and Remainers won’t forget if a shady backroom deal between Johnson and Corbyn helps to deliver Brexit.

Laura Hughes reports

General election preview at PMQs

We are getting a preview of some attack lines for the upcoming general election, whenever that may be.

Mr Corbyn questions the Brexit deal’s arrangements for Northern Ireland, saying the prime minister had previously said a border in the Irish sea would “damage the fabric of the Union.”

In response, the prime minister questioned Mr Corbyn’s “sentimental attachment to the fabric of the union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, when he has spent most of his political lifetime supporting the IRA.” Labour MPs call on him to withdraw the statement.

Away from Brexit, Corbyn said the government is privatising the NHS, while Mr Johnson trumpeted the investment in hospitals he promised on the steps of Downing Street when he became prime minister.

Johnson repeats call for election

The prime minister, taking questions from the Scottish National Party’s Ian Blackford, called on opposition parties to “settle” Brexit via a general election.

“If he really still disagrees with this deal, and disagrees about the way forward, can I propose to him he has a word with other opposition forces and joins our support for a general election to settle the matter.”

The government needs opposition help to call an election, as it no longer has the prerogative to dissolve parliament thanks to the 2011 Fixed Term Parliament Act.

The only way for an early election is via a vote of at least two-thirds of MPs, or a straight vote of no confidence by MPs that was not reversed in 14 days.

Speaking earlier this morning, independent MP Dominic Grieve – who was the Conservative Attorney General when the Act was drawn up – said “history certainly suggests we would be better off without it.”

Downing Street divided over way ahead

Downing Street is divided on whether to attempt to pass the Brexit deal on a slower timetable, or whether to seek a fresh mandate from the British electorate, Sebastian Payne reports.

The length of extension offered by the EU is likely to determine which strategy wins out: a flexible delay until the end of January may favour passing the deal; a longer delay will mean an election.

Labour is also considering its options. Full details here.

Earlier, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn met to discuss a new programme motion, which could see legislation for the Brexit deal brought back to the House of Commons for further debate and votes in the coming weeks, and avoid an election.

Ken Clarke presses PM for ‘reasonable timetable’ for withdrawal bill

Kenneth Clarke, who as Father of the House is the longest serving MP, requested Boris Johnson to draw up a “reasonable timetable motion” for parliament to finalise the details of the Withdrawal Bill.

Mr Clarke, a Conservative MP since 1970, said in today’s Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons:

“Will [the prime minister] let us know that he is about to timetable a reasonable timetable motion so that this house can complete the task of finalising the details of the withdrawal bill so we can move on on the basis that might begin to reunite the nation once again for the future?

Will he accept that October 31 is now Halloween; it is devoid of any symbolic or political content and will fade away into historical memory very rapidly?

Mr Johnson said he will await the EU’s response for parliament’s request for a delay.

“Alas we cannot now know what the EU will do in response to the request from parliament … to ask for a delay. We are awaiting … their reaction to parliament’s request for a delay,” Mr Johnson replied.

I will wait to see what our EU friends and partners say in response both to the request for a delay from parliament and also for the insistence by parliament that they want a delay.

EU’s Tusk updates on Johnson call

Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, has given a brief update on a phone call with Boris Johnson:

The UK’s request, per the Benn Act, currently asks for an extension until the end of January.

Brexit breakthrough tames bearish bets on sterling

FT rates correspondent Tommy Stubbington reports:

Investors have spent much of the past three years fretting about slumps in sterling. But following the recent breakthrough in Brexit negotiations, traders are no longer positioning for a weakening UK currency and have begun to unwind a series of related bets.

The two-year inflation swap — a closely watched gauge of the market’s short-term expectations for retail price rises — has tumbled to as low as 3.1 per cent from 3.6 per cent two weeks ago. The decline, which is by some distance the sharpest since the height of the financial crisis, has brought UK inflation expectations close to their lowest level in the period since the 2016 referendum on EU membership.

That vote and ensuing collapse in sterling unleashed a wave of price rises as the weaker pound drove up the cost of imported goods. The fall over the past week implies that fund managers are now abandoning bets on a second inflationary spike.

“To see such a sharp move in a short space of time is quite striking,” said Theo Chapsalis, head of UK rates strategy at NatWest Markets. “If you take out no-deal risks you have to go back to pricing in what inflation used to be, under more normal conditions.”

Read the full story here.

The latest thinking in Downing Street

The FT’s political editor George Parker has the latest on the chances of a snap election:

Boris Johnson said he would wait to hear from the EU27 on the length of any Brexit delay before deciding what to do next. “We now must see what the EU says about a delay,” he told MPs at prime minister’s questions.

This means that things may not become clearer until later in the week. Mr Johnson, who spoke to European Council president Donald Tusk on Wednesday morning, has been told to expect an answer from Brussels by Friday “at the latest”, according to his allies.

If Mr Johnson wanted to engineer an early election this week he – or an opposition party – would have to table a motion under the fixed term parliament act by tonight to be debated on Thursday. The Commons is not sitting on Friday.

Given that the government and the SNP, which is eager to hold an early election, are waiting to hear what the EU27 says, that suggests that any election motion will not be debated until next Monday at the earliest.

Many ministers are comfortable with the idea of an election. “We would cream Labour in an election,” said one minister.

Others would prefer Mr Johnson to carry on with his Withdrawal Agreement bill to deliver Brexit, even if that means delaying an election and the risk of weeks of parliamentary guerrilla warfare.

No cross-party consensus on Brexit bill timetable

Boris Johnson’s meeting with Jeremy Corbyn to discuss a possible new timetable for delivering the Withdrawal Agreement bill ended with no agreement, George Parker writes.

“There was no meeting of minds,” said one Tory source. There are no further meetings planned.

Mr Johnson has insisted he still wants to deliver Brexit by October 31, but Labour has made it clear that parliamentary scrutiny of the bill must last well beyond that deadline.

Tory sources insisted that all cabinet ministers were signed up to the idea of an election in the event that Labour pushed deliberation of the WAB deep into the autumn.

Government ads still promise October 31 deadline

The government’s Brexit public relations blitz is still telling people to be ready for an October 31 exit from the EU.

The media campaign, which has a budget of £100m, aimed to explain in a “user-friendly way” what individuals needed to do ahead of Brexit day.

But Boris Johnson has dropped his pledge to get Britain out of the EU by the end of this month after the opposition frustrated his speedy timetable for legislative scrutiny of the Brexit bill. He also promised last night to step up no-deal planning.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the October 31 adverts were still running. They contrast with the Conservative party’s messaging, which has switched to blaming Labour for a delay to Brexit.

Live blog: Facebook’s Zuckerberg faces Congressional grilling on Libra

In case you’d like a little break from Brexit, the FT breaking news team in the US has just kicked off what should be a fascinating live blog of Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg’s Congressional testimony today.

Bitcoin and other digital tokens are under pressure ahead of Mr Zuckerberg’s remarks on the controversial Libra project.

Follow along here

Labour’s position on an election

The FT’s chief political correspondent Jim Pickard writes:

This morning there was speculation that Labour would throw its weight behind an early election after Richard Burgon, shadow justice secretary, said he wanted a snap poll before Christmas.

But that was not the impression given by Labour’s spokesman after PMQs today, in which he insisted repeatedly that the party could not support an election until a no-deal Brexit is taken off the table altogether.

The implication: the opposition party is not going to strike in the next few days and could sit on its hands for much longer.

The position of Jeremy Corbyn is crucial because to dissolve Parliament there needs to be a vote of 67 per cent of the House of Commons (although only 50 per cent is needed for a vote of no confidence in the prime minister).

Journalists asked whether that meant – in reality – that Labour would not support an election until January 31, if the EU imposes a three-month extension to Article 50?

The spokesman did not provide great clarity, saying: “So long as the extension is granted and No Deal risk is off the table.”

A purist would suggest that No Deal is always a possibility for as long as Brexit has not been achieved…..could Labour really hold out for that long, given Mr Corbyn’s repeated insistence that he craves an election?

Update: Curiously, another Labour aide is now saying that the press has “misinterpreted” that briefing. He says that the position is still that once the government has obtained “an extension that removes threat of No Deal during election campaign” then it will pursue an election.

Donald Tusk seeks EU consensus on fresh Brexit delay

Here is an update from our Brussels bureau:

Donald Tusk is fighting to forge consensus among EU member states for a Brexit delay to January 31, as Brussels officials warned that any other course would lead to the bloc being dragged into the UK’s domestic political debate.

Mr Tusk was making the case that the political turmoil at Westminster meant that the EU should accept Britain’s request for a postponement of Brexit to January 31.

His plan would leave the door open to the UK departing the EU sooner if it were ready, leading to the plan being dubbed a “flextension”.

Read the full story here.

There is no easy pathway to an election

Even if Boris Johnson does decide to push for an election rather than accept a further delay to Brexit, his pathway to the polls is far from clear.

David Allen Green, law and policy commentator for the FT, said are three possible paths to an election, and not one is uncluttered.

He wrote on Twitter:

• The first pathway is perhaps the most hazardous. A vote of no confidence followed by the loss of another confidence vote. This could simply bring down a minority government – no certainty of an election.

• The second pathway is for two-thirds of MPs to vote for election, as happened in 2017. This requires Labour support.

• The third pathway is to get a Bill through both houses of parliament to sidestep the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. But such a Bill could be amended to the hilt.

Read more of David’s thoughts on his twitter account.

Ireland expects flexible extension

Simon Coveney, Ireland’s deputy prime minister, has said he expects the EU’s Brexit extension to be flexible in order to allow Britain to leave once withdrawal legislation is passed.

Speaking to business leaders in Belfast, he said:

We are supportive of facilitating an extension should that be needed, but I think that extension will be a flexible one, that will allow the United Kingdom to leave the EU if they can get a deal done, well in advance of the end of that extension period which looks like it may be the end of January.

European Parliament pushes for ‘flextension’

Momentum towards a so-called ‘flextension’ is growing.

A flexible extension would extend the UK’s membership of the EU through until January 31, but allow the country to leave early if the necessary legislation is able to pass the British and European parliaments.

Guy Verhofstadt, who leads the European Parliament’s Brexit steering group, said his committee “is of the opinion that a flextension, not going beyond the 31st Jan, is the only way forward.”

“This is an important agreement & the European Parliament needs time to scrutinise in detail, especially concerning citizens rights.”

Johnson and Merkel hold talks

The FT’s political editor George Parker writes:

Boris Johnson has spoken to Angela Merkel, German chancellor, to discuss how the EU should respond to his request for an extension to the Brexit process.

Number 10 said:

“The prime minister made the same point that he made to Donald Tusk [European Council president] that it is his long held view that we should not delay and we should leave the EU on October 31.”

Interesting to note the wording here. Downing Street is now talking about how we “should” leave the EU on Halloween, rather than “will”, which was the preferred formulation until now.

Mr Johnson’s team had been prepared to accept a Brexit extension for ten days – but only if the EU made it clear that this was the final, final offer – in the hope that it might force MPs into a decision between the prime minister’s deal and “no deal”.

But hopes are receding in Number 10 that the EU will do anything other than offer a delay until January 31 – as requested in Mr Johnson’s unsigned letter on Saturday – with a flexible break clause if parliament ratifies the bill before that date.

Ms Merkel, Mr Tusk and Leo Varadkar have all been very firm on that point. Downing St does not expect to hear from the EU until Friday at the earliest.

Questions continue over Northern Irish trade under Johnson deal

Bethan Staton reports:

Priti Patel has said she is unable to confirm what checks on goods between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK will look like under the Brexit deal.

The Home Secretary was quizzed by the Home Affairs Select Committee about remarks by Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay, who this week said companies would have to declare goods moving from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK, despite assurances that trade would be “unfettered”.

Asked whether UK border officials would be carrying out the checks, Ms Patel said it “depends on various circumstances” and “would not speak about hypothetical situations”.

Paul Lincoln, director general of the Border Force, said a “minimum amount” of electronic information that would need to be shared on goods moving from west to east, and it was not agreed who would carry those checks out.

For goods moving east to west, from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, he said traders will have to declare goods, with physical checks potentially needed in less than one per cent of cases, as “targeted interventions where there may be a problem”.

Under questioning from Jeremy Corbyn, Boris Johnson told MPs on Wednesday: “Lets be absolutely clear…there will be no checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.”

Yesterday he told MPs: There will be “some light touch measures on the border,” specifically over the trade in endangered animals and firearms.

Also uncertain is the future security partnership between the EU and the UK. Although Ms Patel assured the committee the UK would continue its “enhanced collaboration” with EU security agencies after January 2021, she gave no details on what the future treaty might look like.

Yvette Cooper, the chair of the committee, described the lack of a timetable as “worrying”.

Where we stand on Wednesday evening in London and Brussels

Here’s a round-up of today’s developments:

• Westminster is on watch for a snap general election, although Boris Johnson has said he will wait to hear back from the EU27 on a Brexit extension before making his next move.

• This is some disagreement in Downing Street over the way ahead, with some ministers urging the prime minister to push on with the Withdrawal Agreement bill rather than agitating for an election.

• In Brussels, Donald Tusk is trying to forge consensus among EU member states. There appears to be some momentum towards a flexible extension, which would allow the UK to leave before the likely January 31 deadline if it was ready.

• Mr Johnson and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn met this morning to discuss a possible new timeline for parliamentary scrutiny of the Brexit bill, although they did not reach an agreement.

Emoticon FT analysis – the underlying majority for the Brexit bill

Reporting by Sebastian Payne, John Burn-Murdoch and Jim Pickard

Somewhere among the results of yesterday’s votes in the House of Commons is the underlying majority for Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal.

There is not a majority of 30 to pass it, as per the result of the second reading vote, nor a loss of 19 as the vote on the programme motion would suggest.

An analysis by the Financial Times suggests the underlying majority is closer to three votes.

• 21 MPs voted for Mr Johnson’s Brexit deal in principle but objected to Downing Street’s timetable to deliver it.

• How this group splits will point towards those who are ultimately willing to back the deal if it returns to parliament for a crunch vote.

• Six independent Conservative MPs backed the second reading, not the programme motion, but are expected to back the deal – pending reassurances from Downing Street about avoiding a no deal exit next year: Anne Milton, Philip Hammond, Kenneth Clarke, Antoinette Sandbach, Richard Harrington and Rory Stewart.

• Mr Johnson won the second reading vote thanks to the 19 Labour MPs who backed the deal in principle.

• While four of these MPs are more likely than not to back the deal on a third (and final reading), the others are in flux.

• Out of remaining 16 Labour MPs, five may come around to backing but the deal but several others, including Stephen Kinnock and Lisa Nandy, have said they will only back a deal if it is significantly amended.

• The FT’s analysis assumes the majority will stay opposed to Mr Johnson’s deal, but this may depend on what, if any, amendments succeed.

• One of the Labour rebels predicts that if it comes to a final vote on the deal “only five or so won’t back it.” The majority could be much higher than three, if some of these MPs opt to abstain instead of voting against.

The latest thinking from Brussels

EU diplomats said that the one clear outcome of today’s meeting of EU27 ambassadors in Brussels is that Donald Tusk is likely to get his wish of avoiding organising a summit to approve the Brexit delay, reports Jim Brunsden in Brussels.

One EU official said that the meeting this evening showed “a strong preference to use a written procedure to take the final decision” rather than forcing leaders to convene in Brussels.

A number of ambassadors said that their capitals need more time to reflect on the length of the extension that should be granted to the UK.

But one EU diplomat said that the “mood in the room” pointed to the EU granting Britain’s request of an extension running to 31st January 2020.

There was “a unanimous view that an extension will be needed to overcome the deadlock in London”, the diplomat said.

Mr Tusk wants the EU to formalise its decision around the end of this week, or the start of next week, and ambassadors are expected to meet again on Friday.

National governments are “still considering” what the extension should be, said one EU diplomat, adding that there was “no blood” at today’s meeting.

Mr Tusk will continue to liaise with EU leaders in the coming days, having spoken to Angela Merkel, Leo Varadkar and others today.

That’s all for this evening

We are going to close up the blog for tonight. Thanks for your company, there will be continued coverage and analysis from London and Brussels on through the evening.

If you want more live coverage, my colleagues in the US are covering Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s grilling in Washington here.