EU's Michel Barnier 'suggests Brexit transition could be extended until 2022'
The Brexit transition period could be extended by two years under proposals suggested by the European Union's chief negotiator, it has been reported.
Michel Barnier is said to have proposed the extension in order to give more time for Britain to strike a full trade deal with the EU.
The move would also give diplomats more time to find a means of avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland and avoid the use of the backstop.
Under the draft Withdrawal Agreement published last week, the transition period would begin when the UK leaves the EU on March 29 and run until December 31 2020.
During the transition, EU law will continue to apply in the UK and Britain will continue to participate in the customs union and the single market.
There is a one-off option for the UK to seek an extension of the transition if negotiations on the future relationship are still continuing.
According to the Financial Times, Mr Barnier told EU ambassadors in a diplomatic note that the transition period could be extended until as late as December 2022.
During the extended period, the UK could have to continue to allow the free movement of people from the EU and keep making large payments to Brussels.
In October, Theresa May confirmed she was ready to consider a delay of "a matter of months" in Britain's final departure from the EU in order to avoid a hard border in Ireland.
The Prime Minister previously said she did not expect any extension of the transition period to be needed, because she hoped to conclude a deal on the UK's future trade and security relationship with the EU by its scheduled end-date of December 2020.
In his reported communique, Mr Barnier is said to have noted that the political situation in Westminster is "volatile".
Any extension to the transition period would be mutually agreed between the UK and the EU.
Meanwhile, Business Secretary Greg Clark has also not ruled out asking for a longer Brexit transition period if needed.
Asked on BBC radio about an extension to the transition period, Clark said: "It would be at our request."
"It would be our discretion, it would be purely for us if we wanted to and there are reasons we may not want to take that up, it would be available to us," he said. He did not rule out a suggestion that it could last until 2022.
"If we were six weeks away from concluding a future economic partnership and agreeing that then it may make sense to extend the transition period," Clark said.
In Westminster, Brexiteers could view extending the period as a concession to Brussels.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister could also face criticism of failing to overcome the final barriers to sealing a full trade deal with the EU.
(PA & Reuters)