BORIS Johnson has done what he said he would “rather be dead in a ditch” than do: he formally requested a Brexit extension until January 31 2020.

The first of three separate letters dispatched to Brussels asked for an extension of Article 50 talks as required by the so-called Benn Act, but while it was attributed to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom it was not signed by Johnson.

The second was a photocopy of the five pages of the Benn legislation, which required him to apply for the extension until the end of January 2020 if MPs had not approved his exit deal by October 19.

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In a third letter to Donald Tusk, president of the European Council – which was signed by Johnson – the Prime Minister said he did not favour an extension as it would “damage the interests of the UK and our EU partners”.

He said he was confident of passing his Brexit deal by October 31, with a meaningful vote on the deal expected today in the House of Commons.

However, the government’s defeat in the Commons on Saturday over an amendment forcing an extension means Johnson must ask Brussels to prolong negotiations beyond October 31 to comply with the law. 

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The first of the three letters said the UK was requesting an extension to January 31 2020, but should a deal be ratified before this date, the “government proposes that the period should be terminated early”. 

In his letter to Tusk, Johnson wrote: “I regret causing my fellow leaders to devote more time and energy to a question I had hoped we had resolved last week.”

The Prime Minister said he would also be ready to come back to Brussels to talk to the 27 EU leaders to “answer properly any question on the position of HM Government and progress in the ratification process”. 

Judges will today meet in the Court of Session in Edinburgh to consider whether Johnson has complied with the Benn Act.