Jeremy Hunt admits Brexit could be delayed
Jeremy Hunt today became the most senior minister to admit Brexit could be delayed to cope with the mountain of new laws required before the UK quits the EU.
The Foreign Secretary said Britain “might need some extra time to pass critical legislation” if it agrees a deal with the bloc at the eleventh hour before the departure date of 29 March.
He also once more revealed the deep splits in the Cabinet over the way forward on Brexit, as he appeared to endorse a strategy that just last night was all-but dismissed by Business Secretary Greg Clark.
Theresa May has insisted the UK will not delay its exit from the EU but there are mounting concerns in Westminster that more time will be needed to cope with all the necessary admin.
Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom has suggested a the EU would allow the UK an informal couple of weeks extra to pass the laws it needs if a deal is ratified too late in the day.
Mr Hunt backed her up this morning in an interview with the Today programme when it was put to him that a “technical delay” might be required.
“I think it is true that if we ended up approving a deal in the days before the 29 March then we might need some extra time to pass critical legislation,” he said.
“But if we are able to make progress sooner then that might not be necessary and we can’t know at this stage exactly which of those scenarios will happen.”
Former Brexit minister and deputy chair of the pro-Brexit European Research Group of Tory MPs Steve Baker told PoliticsHome: “Any delay before a deal is secured would be a crass negotiating error.”
It comes after PoliticsHome revealed that senior Tory officials are set to tell Theresa May they are willing to stomach a two-month delay to Brexit to process legislation.
Elsewhere, Mr Hunt appeared to contradict his Cabinet colleague Mr Clark when he suggested endorsement for the so-called Malthouse Compromise for Brexit drawn up by Tory MPs from across the EU divide.
The plan proposes using technology that does not yet exist to avoid the need for infrastructure at the Northern Irish border if the UK is forced to quit the bloc without a deal.
Mr Clark told the ITV Peston show last night the option was “not currently available,” noting: “I can’t see that those technical possibilities are there yet.”
But Mr Hunt talked up the “consensus” among Tory MPs for the Malthouse Compromise and said of Mr Clark: “He has got a view and lots of people have got a view.”
He added: “There was a particular consensus in the Conservative parliamentary party around a technological solution put together by Kit Malthouse.
“That is one of the things we are looking at - it’s not the only thing we are looking at.”