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Cabinet minister breaks ranks to warn Theresa May against extending Brexit transition period

3 min read

A Cabinet minister has warned Theresa May against extending the Brexit transition period if it means forcing the UK to abide by EU fishing rules for longer.

Scottish Secretary David Mundell made his concerns clear to the Prime Minister after she floated the idea at this week's EU summit.

Mr Mundell is the first member of Mrs May's top team to break ranks after she said she was open to the idea of extending the transition period beyond the end of 2020.

However, sources close to the Cabinet minister rejected reports that he had threatened to resign.

"David would want reassurances that any extension to the transition period would not delay departure from the Common Fisheries Policy," said one.

Leaving the CFP was the main driver of support for Brexit among the Scottish fishing community, who said it restricted their ability to make a living.

The existing transition period, which runs out on 31 December, 2020, commits the UK to sticking to EU rules - including the CFP - in exchange for continued membership of the customs union and single market.

Mr Mundell's intervention came as Mrs May was assailed by critics on all wings of the Tory party, with some saying it made a challenge to her leadership all-but inevitable.

Former minister Nick Boles, who campaigned for Remain in the 2016 referendum, told the Today programme: "I’m afraid she’s losing the confidence now of colleagues of all shades of opinion -  people who’ve been supportive of her throughout this process – they are close to despair at the state of this negotiation."

Brexiteer MP Andrea Jenkyns tweeted: “Back in July, myself and 36 colleagues signed a letter to the Prime Minister setting out our red lines – and that was one of them. It’s completely ridiculous."

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds, whose party props up the Prime Minister's minority government, said: "An extended transition period means the United Kingdom continues to pay but have no say in Brussels. Such an extension would cost the United Kingdom billions of pounds, yet our fundamental problem with the EU proposal remains."

Speaking at an EU Council summit in Brussels yesterday, Mrs May refused to rule out extending the transition period, although she insisted she did not believe it was likely to happen.

She said: "If there is a gap between the end of the implementation period, which as I’ve said has been set at December 2020, and the introduction of the future relationship - if there is a period of months, and I think we would only be talking about a matter months - when there is that gap, it’s ensuring that there is no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland."

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