Monday 20 January 2020

Top Tory refuses to rule out extension to Brexit transition beyond 2020

Leaving door open: Business Secretary Greg Clarke. Photo: PA
Leaving door open: Business Secretary Greg Clarke. Photo: PA

Sam Lister

A British cabinet minister has refused to rule out extending the UK's transition out of the EU as backbenchers warned Theresa May the deadline must remain intact.

Under the current timetable, the implementation period is set to end in December 2020.

But Business Secretary Greg Clark held open the door for an extension to the arrangements.

He told Sky News: "At all times we need to be guided by the evidence on this, speaking to the people that run this very successful port (Dover) and the same with Eurotunnel, in order to make sure that we can continue the success, and that we don't have frictions, there are things that would need to (be) put in place, computer systems for example, posts at the border, even if they checked, automatically, number plates.

"What we need to assess is how long it would reasonably take to put in practice and then it seems to me that any reasonable person would have to be guided by the facts and the evidence."

Mrs May will bring together her cabinet on Friday at Chequers to thrash out details of a white paper setting out the UK's plans for areas such as trade.

Brexiteers oppose the PM's favoured option of a customs partnership with the EU, which would see the UK collect tariffs set by the EU customs union on goods entering the country on behalf of the bloc.

Their "max fac" alternative would, rather than scrapping customs checks, use technology in order to minimise the need for them.

Both options have been dismissed by the EU.

Asked whether the customs partnership option was still on the table, Mr Clark said: "Yes."

Mrs May faced a warning from backbenchers not to extend the transition period beyond December 2020.

Andrea Jenkyns, who quit a junior government role to campaign on Brexit, delivered a letter to the PM on Friday signed by more than 30 Tories calling for her to show "courage and leadership".

The group said: "Our departure must be absolute. We must not remain entangled with the EU's institutions if this restricts our ability to exercise our sovereignty as an independent nation.

"Anything less will be a weakening of our democracy. Britain must stand firm."

Senior Tory Graham Brady, however, warned that disunity in the cabinet was making Mrs May's negotiations with Brussels more difficult and would alienate voters.

In an article for the 'Observer', Mr Graham, chairman of the 1922 committee of backbench Conservatives, said: "Electorates these days are volatile, but one thing is certain: they do not vote for divided parties."

James Brokenshire said there was "no doubt that there is strong views on either side" over Brexit in cabinet but insisted he was "confident" Mrs May's top team could reach an agreement on Friday.

The Communities Secretary said that the Government was planning for "all eventualities".

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he believed the transition period after Brexit would be extended.

Mr Corbyn sidestepped questions about whether he would rule out a second referendum.

"We have not proposed it, we have not supported it and we are not proposing it now," he said.

Irish Independent

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