Dominic Raab: No extension to Brexit transition unless Northern Irish backstop dumped
Ministers will only agree to extend the Brexit transition period if plans for a Northern Ireland backstop are dropped, Dominic Raab has said.
The Brexit Secretary insisted keeping the UK under EU rules for longer to smooth the Brexit process was on the table “as an alternative” to any “unacceptable” mechanism protecting the Irish border.
But pro-Brexit former minister Steve Baker has taken matters into his own hands by teeing up a possible parliamentary showdown on the backstop proposals.
Talks have broken down over ideas to protect the Irish border in the event of a no-deal Brexit, with an extension to the transition period - due to end in December 2020 - mooted as a way to break the impasse.
Pro-Brexit MPs fear an extension to the period, designed to smooth the withdrawal from the bloc, would leave the UK too closely tied to the EU for too long and possibly end up a permanent state of affairs.
Mr Raab, writing in The Sunday Telegraph, tried to allay those fears by saying there could be no “indefinite limbo inside the EU's customs union”.
And he added: "The Prime Minister has rightly refused to rule out considering different approaches - including extending the implementation period for a limited period of a few months, as an alternative to the backstop.
“But we won't sacrifice Northern Ireland, and we must have finality to any backstop - whether through a time-limit or a mechanism that enables the UK to leave, in case the EU doesn't live up to its promise to get the future relationship in place swiftly.”
The EU has proposed keeping just Northern Ireland tied to some EU rules in the event of a no-deal, while Mrs May wants any backstop plan to apply to the whole country to protect the constitution.
But she also wants any such mechanism to be time limited - which has been firmly rejected by the EU.
Meanwhile, former Brexit minister Steve Baker has tabled amendments to the Northern Ireland bill which would mean Stormont must consent to the province being treated differently to the rest of the UK.
The Northern Irish Assembly has not sat since it collapsed in January last year - and there is little hope of a breakthrough in getting it back up and running any time soon.
Mr Baker said amendments to his bill - which will be discussed in parliament this week - would ensure "emergency powers" could not be used without the consent of Stormont.
It comes after some 700,000 people marched in central London demanding a referendum on the final Brexit deal.