BORIS Johnson would be prepared to accept a “short delay” to Brexit to get the UK-EU deal over the line, Conservative sources have suggested, after the Prime Minister warned MPs any lengthy delay would force him to pull the legislation.

As he opened the Second Reading debate on the Withdrawal Bill, Mr Johnson sought to pile pressure on MPs by seemingly suggesting that if the UK Government's timetable motion - setting out its plan to complete the legislative process in the Commons by Thursday night - were defeated this evening, he would withdraw the legislation and seek a pre-Christmas General Election.

The PM told MPs: "I will in no way allow months more of this.

"If Parliament refuses to allow Brexit to happen and instead...decides to delay everything until January or possibly longer in no circumstances can the Government continue with this.”

He then told MPs: "With great regret I must say that the Bill will have to be pulled and we will have to go forward to a General Election and I will argue at that election let's get Brexit done."

But one Tory MP told The Herald Mr Johnson had chosen his words carefully, giving the impression that he would pull the bill completely if he lost the timetable motion but, in reality, only warning he would do this if there were a delay beyond January.

“It’s clear he would accept a short delay of, say, two weeks to mid-November. Are people really saying if he got the bill past Second Reading, he would collapse the whole thing? I don’t think he would,” said the backbencher. 

Another Conservative MP suggested Mr Johnson would be willing to accept a "10-day delay" to the Hallowe’en deadline.

The PM’s warning about pulling the legislation was dismissed as "childish blackmail" by Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman.

"MPs shouldn't be bullied into voting in favour of this ridiculously short timetable," he declared.

If Mr Johnson did collapse the bill, Parliament would have to be dissolved by Friday to enable an election to take place by the end of November as five weeks are legally required for an election campaign.

In practical terms, MPs could only have until the end of next week to try to get an election before Christmas.

Last week, it was suggested Sir Mark Sedwill, the head of the Civil Service, had warned Downing St that going to the polls after December 12 could lead to difficulties providing facilities as village halls and other locations used for polling stations would have been pre-booked for Christmas events like pantomimes and children’s parties.

In Commons exchanges, the PM also warned that failure to back his plans would be "closing the path to leaving with a deal on October 31 and opening the path to a no-deal in nine days’ time".

Urging MPs to vote for the programme motion, he said: "Doing anything else would, I am afraid, mean this House abdicating its responsibilities and handing over to the EU Council what happens next."

A programme motion is thought to have only been defeated once before - on House of Lords reform in 2012 - and the Bill was then scrapped.

Interestingly during Commons exchanges, Labour MPs representing Leave constituencies indicated they could support the Brexit bill before seeking to amend it.

Lisa Nandy, who represents Wigan, told Jeremy Corbyn as he began his contribution from the dispatch box: “Does he understand why those of us in seats that voted very heavily to Leave, who stood on a manifesto in 2017 that said we'd respect the result of the referendum, feel very strongly this Bill must be allowed to proceed to committee stage so we can engage in the detail of the debate and see if there is a possibility of getting a Brexit deal that protects our constituents?”

Her colleague Gloria De Piero added: "I am also minded to vote in favour of a second reading, not because I support that deal but because I don't.

"And I want to improve the deal so it reflects the manifesto that I stood on to respect the result of that referendum - but to leave with a deal that protects job and trade. Does he understand my motivation?"

In response Mr Corbyn, stressing he fully understood her concerns, said: “I hope that she will understand why I believe this Bill should not be given a Second Reading, but I'm also sure she will agree with me that to get this Bill to debate less than 17 hours after it was published is a totally unreasonable way of treating Parliament and I hope she will also join in the lobby this evening in opposing the programme motion on this particular Bill."

In Brussels, Donald Tusk, the European Council President, gave some reassurance to MPs that a requested extension to Article 50 would be treated with "all seriousness" as he consulted with EU leaders who could block the move.

"It is obvious that the result of these consultations will very much depend on what the British Parliament decides or doesn't decide," noted Mr Tusk.

"We should be ready for every scenario. But one thing must be clear as I said to Prime Minister Johnson on Saturday, a no-deal Brexit will never be our decision."

The new Brexit deal must also win backing from the European Parliament but Guy Verhofstadt, its Brexit co-ordinator, said problems affecting EU nationals in the UK must first be solved to prevent "another Windrush scandal".

As his time as European Commission President comes to a close, Jean-Claude Juncker said it had "pained" him to spend so much time dealing with Brexit, which he described as "a waste of time and a waste of energy".

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, also told the European Parliament "this is the only possible agreement", signalling it was the last deal any PM could broker.

Rory Stewart, who was among the 21 rebels against no-deal exiled from the Tories, suggested he could back the Brexit bill but not back the programme motion.

The first vote this evening will be on the Bill's "in principle" Second Reading.

Despite the opposition of the DUP over arrangements for Northern Ireland, UK ministers believe they have the support of pro-Leave Labour rebels and former Tory MPs now sitting as independents, who would rather leave with Mr Johnson's deal than no deal at all.

The greater question-mark is over the programme motion. This could be a much tighter vote with some MPs believing the Government will lose it and others saying it will win it. Only time will tell if Mr Johnson’s threat to pull the bill if he loses could make a difference in his favour.

If the legislation passes under the proposed timetable, the bill would then move to the committee stage - which would continue overnight into Wednesday - when MPs will have the opportunity to put down amendments.

Labour-backed amendments are expected to include attempts to keep the UK more closely aligned with the EU through a customs union and to hold a second referendum. Both are bitterly opposed by the Government and would provide the key flash-points as the bill proceeds to its final Commons vote, its Third Reading, on Thursday night.