Theresa May insists Brexit transition period will end ‘well before’ 2022
Britain’s Brexit transition period will end “well before” 2022, Theresa May has insisted, as she faced fresh criticism over her latest bid to unfreeze talks with Brussels.
The Prime Minister is under mounting pressure over plans to leave open the option of extending Britain’s transition period - in which the UK will have left the EU but maintain a broadly similar relationship to the one it has now - beyond the current end date of December 2020.
The move would be intended to allow more time to solve the Northern Ireland border issue which has left the two sides at loggerheads if needed.
Addressing MPs for the first time since she travelled to meet EU leaders last week, Mrs May said both sides had discussed “an option to extend” the implementation period as a way to avoid relying on the controversial “backstop” option for Northern Ireland on which the two sides are still deadlocked.
She insisted: “I’ve not committed to extending the implementation period. I do not want to extend the implementation period and I do not believe that extending will be necessary.”
But the Prime Minister risked fresh anger from the Eurosceptic wing of her party when she said only that the “insurance” policy would end “well before the end of this Parliament” in 2022.
She said: “There are some limited circumstances in which it could be argued that an extension to the implementation period might be preferable if were certain it was only for a short time.
“For example, a short extension to the implementation period would mean only one set of changes for business at the point we move to the future relationship.
“But in any such scenario we would have to be out of this implementation period well before the end of this Parliament.”
The Prime Minister told MPs that "95% of the withdrawal agreement and its protocols" were now "settled".
But she acknowledged that avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland remained a key "sticking point" in the frozen negotiations.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn seized on the deadlocked state of talks with the EU, accusing Mrs May of heading to Brussels to “beg for an extension” to the transition period.
He fumed: “Their Brexit negotiations have been a litany of missed deadlines, shambolic failure and now they are begging for extra time...
"This government is terminally incompetent, hamstrung by its own division.”
TRANSITION PERIOD ‘RASHNESS’
In a sign of the pressure Mrs May is under from both wings of the Tory party, her Commons statement was preceded by two Urgent Questions from Conservative MPs demanding answers about the Government’s Brexit plans.
Arch-Brexiteer John Redwood repeatedly pressed the Treasury to spell out the potential costs of any extension to the Brexit transition period, warning that the divorce bill could soar by “£15bn or more” every year if Britain extends its stay.
He said it would be “an act of great rashness” to extend the UK’s stay in the orbit of Brussels, and claimed that the EU could “frontload” Britain’s obligations to ramp up the divorce bill.
Leading Remainer and former attorney general Dominic Grieve meanwhile grilled the Government on its insistence that MPs are given only a straight yes-or-no vote on any deal Mrs May strikes with Brussels.
Some opponents of Brexit had hoped to tack on amendments to the agreement in a bid to soften Britain’s exit or allowing a second referendum, while Eurosceptics had planned to use the vote to push for a Canada-style free trade deal.
But Mr Raab insisted that any tweaks made by MPs would not affect a deal “agreed at the international level between the United Kingdom and the European Union”, and told the House that they could not “delay or prevent” Britain’s departure from the bloc.
That was dismissed as “entirely unsatisfactory” by Mr Grieve - who led the Commons charge for MPs to be given a so-called “meaningful vote on the final Brexit deal. He warned: “It departs from the plain assurances given repeatedly to the House that we would be able to express a desire for alternatives when voting to reject or accept any deal.”
Labour also tore into the Government’s stance on a Commons vote, with Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer saying that while his party backed a “decisive vote” it was the job of Parliament and not ministers to “decide how that view is to be expressed”.