Extending Brexit transition period to 2022 is ‘an option’, says top Cabinet minister
Cabinet minister Greg Clark has risked infuriating Brexiteers by suggesting extending the Brexit transition period until 2022 is “an option”.
The Business Secretary said the period - in which the UK and EU will maintain a broadly similar relationship the one they have now - could run on until 2022 in order to give more time for negotiators to strike a full trade deal with the bloc.
It is currently due to expire by December 2020, but Tory Brexiteers fear the option of extending contained in Mrs May’s draft Brexit deal could cost taxpayers billions in extra payments while keeping the UK in the single market and customs union.
But speaking to the BBC Today Programme, Mr Clark said there was “value” in having the option if negotiations on the future relationship were only “weeks and months” from being completed when the proposed transition ends.
He said: “It would be at our request and that would be a maximum period and it would be for this purpose: if the negotiations are making good progress but haven’t quite been finalised, to have the option, and it would be an option for us and there is value in having an option.
“Rather than going in for a temporary period into the backstop and having a second change, to have the option, if the UK wanted, to extend the transition period.
“The point is, to have the option, that if we had the option, we don’t have to choose it, the strongest preference is clearly to complete the negotiation.”
He added: “It would be our discretion, it would be purely up to us if we wanted to, and there may be reasons why we may not want to take that up, it would be available to us.”
“It would be at the time, and there we would be a discussion in Government, and no doubt in Parliament as to what was the best thing.”
His comments follow reports that EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier is in favour of the two-year extension to ensure that a full deal is in place before the UK exits the bloc.
But the move risks sparking the anger of Tory Brexiteers who have previously slammed suggestions of an extension.
Theresa May is under mounting pressure to back down on her Brexit plan, with Eurosceptics drumming up support for the 48 letters of no confidence needed to trigger a Tory vote on her leadership.
Simon Clarke, one of 25 Conservative MPs who have publicly urged a leadership challenge, called on his colleagues to ensure "action is taken".
Speaking to the Today programme he said: "This is absolutely the day at which we stand at the bar of history on this."
He added: "It is quite clear to me that the captain is driving the ship at the rocks."
But the Prime Minister will strike a defiant tone today when she tells the CBI business group her agreement with the EU is "final".