UK 'could stay in EU for years' after deal on Brexit
Britain could remain in the EU for an "implementation period" potentially lasting years after a deal on Brexit is reached, Prime Minister Theresa May has signalled.
Mrs May said yesterday the UK could take advantage of a clause in Article 50 of the EU treaties which allows withdrawal to be delayed beyond the two-year deadline for the conclusion of negotiations.
Her comments came as the chairman of the House of Commons Liaison Committee Andrew Tyrie warned that major companies could start relocating staff to continental Europe soon unless they are assured that the UK is not facing an abrupt "cliff-edge" departure from the EU in 2019.
Mrs May responded: "I would expect to be able to negotiate a deal within the two-year period that is set out. But it may be the case that there are some practical aspects which require a period of implementation thereafter.
"That is what we will need, not just for us but for businesses on the continent and others.
"But that needs to be part of the negotiation. We will discuss whether we need an implementation phase - the point at which the treaties cease to apply may be a different issue from whether or not we have an implementation phase."
During a 90-minute grilling by the cross-party Liaison Committee, Mrs May also appeared to confirm that Whitehall was preparing for the "worst-case scenario" of Britain leaving without agreement on its future relationship with the remaining 27-nation bloc - possibly because a deal had been vetoed by the European Parliament.
But she suggested that in that case, it would be the other 27 EU member states who would want to extend the negotiation period to try to reach an agreement acceptable to MEPs.
If the European Parliament wielded its veto, she expected that "the 27 would determine whether or not they would wish to continue negotiations", subject to the UK's agreement.
The prime minister has said she will invoke Article 50 by the end of March 2017, and she appeared to indicate that she will wait until the very end of this period, telling Mr Tyrie: "It's going to be quite busy in the run-up to the end of March."
She also announced a major speech early in the New Year to set out more details of her approach to Brexit and her hopes of creating "a truly global Britain".
The speech looks likely to come ahead of the formal publication of the government's negotiation strategy, which Brexit secretary David Davis has said will not be available before February, as many details remain to be agreed.
"I will be making a speech early in the New Year setting out more about our approach and about the opportunity I think we have as a country to use this process to forge a truly global Britain that embraces and trades with countries across the world," said the prime minister.
Mrs May said she would make sure MPs had a "proper opportunity" to consider her plans for Brexit before Article 50 is triggered.
But she refused to commit to a Commons vote on the final deal.
Mrs May also has played down the prospect of a separate Brexit deal for Scotland as Nicola Sturgeon published her own proposals to protect Scottish interests in Europe.
The first minister said her plans - which include options allowing Scotland to remain in the single market even if the rest of the UK leaves and the transfer of significant powers to Holyrood - represent a "significant compromise" on the part of the Scottish government.
While Mrs May has promised to look "very seriously" at the paper, she told a House of Commons committee it was "not right" to assume "an acceptance of differential relationships" as part of the Brexit negotiations.