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Boris Johnson to toughen up Brexit bill to make it illegal for transition period to be extended

3 min read

Boris Johnson will beef up his Brexit bill to make it illegal for ministers to try and extend the EU transition period beyond the end of next year.

In a move that once again raises the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, the Prime Minister will use his new Commons majority to enshrine the 2020 date in law - regardless of whether the UK strikes a trade deal with the EU.

The UK is due to formally leave the bloc on 31 January next year, but will stay in a so-called 'implementation period' - remaining closely aligned to EU rules - until 31 December 2020.

The Tory manifesto vowed not to extend that period, a move that was seen as crucial in securing an electoral pact with the Brexit Party led by Nigel Farage.

Mr Johnson is planning to unveil the change in an extra clause bolted on to the Withdrawal Agreement Bill when it comes before the Commons later this week.

Announcing the move, a Number 10 source said: "Last week the public voted for a government that would get Brexit done and move this country forward - and that's exactly what we intend to do starting this week.

"Our manifesto made clear that we will not extend the implementation period and the new Withdrawal Agreement Bill will legally prohibit Government agreeing to any extension."

Mr Johnson is also planning to ditch pre-election amendments to the bill that would have given MPs oversight of the negotiations on a post-Brexit trade deal.

The Times reports that the Commons will no longer be given a vote on extending the transition period as demanded by MPs before the election, while Downing Street has signalled that assurances there will be no "regression" on workers' rights could also be junked.

The changes sparked an angry response from Remain-backing MPs, with Liberal Democrat co-leader Sir Ed Davey warning: "This Tory government’s reckless approach to Brexit will send the country straight off the no-deal cliff."

The interim party chief added: "The only way Johnson can meet the December 2020 timetable is by giving up all his previous promises to Leave voters and agreeing to all the demands of the EU."

Brussels has already argued that it is "unrealistic" for the Prime Minister to hope to strike a trade deal with the EU in just eleven months.

The EU's top Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told MEPs: "With regards to this agreement, we will not get everything done in 11 months. We will do all we can – we won’t do it all."

He added: "It is unrealistic that a global negotiation can be done in 11 months, so we can't do it all. We will do all we can to get what I call the 'vital minimum' to establish a relationship with the UK if that is the time scale."

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