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Boris Johnson's 11th Hour Brexit Delay Request Received By European Union

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has grudgingly asked the European Union to delay Brexit after the British Parliament postponed a decision on whether to back his divorce deal

But the defiant Johnson also made clear that he personally was opposed to delaying the Brexit, scheduled for October 31.

READ MORE: Boris Johnson Defiant After UK Parliament Votes To Delay Brexit ... Again

A law passed by Parliament last month set a late-night deadline for the government to send a letter asking the EU for a three-month postponement if MPs had not approved an agreement with the bloc by Saturday. An hour before the deadline, European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted: "The extension request has just arrived. I will now start consulting EU leaders on how to react."

Johnson made clear he was making the request under duress. The letter was not signed. It was accompanied by a second letter, signed by Johnson, arguing that delay would "damage the interests if the UK and our EU partners".

Earlier in the day, Johnson had told MPs that "further delay would be bad for this country, bad for the European Union and bad for democracy".

Johnson has formally asked for a Brexit delay. Image: Getty Images.

French President Emmanuel Macron seemed to agree. Macron's office said he spoke to Johnson by phone and insisted on the need for "quick clarification of the British position on the accord". The president's office said Macron indicated to the British prime minister that "a delay would be in no one's interest".

At a rare weekend sitting of Parliament, MPs voted 322-306 to withhold their approval of the Brexit deal until legislation to implement it has been passed.

The vote sought to ensure that the UK cannot crash out of the EU without a divorce deal on the scheduled departure date. Johnson, who struck the agreement with the EU earlier this week, said he was not "daunted or dismayed" by the result and would continue to do all he can to get Brexit done in less than two weeks.

Parliament's first weekend sitting since the Falklands War of 1982 had been dubbed "Super Saturday".

Johnson was not happy about the result. Image: Michael Kappeler/picture alliance via Getty Images.

It looked set to bring Britain's Brexit saga to a head , more than three years after the country's divisive decision to leave the EU.

But the government's hopes were derailed when House of Commons Speaker John Bercow said he would allow a vote on an amendment to put the vote on the deal off until another day.

The amendment makes support for the deal conditional on passage of the legislation to implement it, something that could take several days or weeks. It also gives MPs another chance to scrutinise -- and possibly change -- the Brexit departure terms while the legislation is in Parliament.

The government still hopes it can pass the needed legislation by the end of the month so the UK can leave on time.

Protesters congregate outside London's parliament. Image: AAP Photos.

READ MORE: Thousands Of Brexit Protesters Block Main Streets In Central London

The leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, said the government would hold a debate Monday on its Brexit-implementing legislation - effectively a second attempt to secure approval for the deal.

It's unclear whether that would be allowed under House of Commons rules against holding repeated votes on the same question. Bercow said he would make a ruling Monday.

The vote was welcomed by hundreds of thousands of anti-Brexit demonstrators who marched to Parliament Square, demanding a new referendum on whether Britain should leave the EU or remain.

Protesters, many wearing blue berets emblazoned with yellow stars symbolising the EU flag, poured out of subways and buses for the last-ditch effort.