Theresa May sparks fury after confirming Brexit transition could be extended by a ‘matter of months’
Theresa May has prompted fury from her own party after saying she would consider extending the UK's Brexit transition period by a “matter of months”.
Mrs May said the extension would give UK and EU negotiators more time to find a solution to the Irish border issue, but insisted she still believed a deal on the future relationship would be in place before December 2020.
Speaking ahead of a second day of talks with EU leaders in Brussels, the Prime Minister said: “On the withdrawal agreement there are issues remaining around the backstop.”
“Earlier in the year we forward a proposal as to how to deal with this issue. A further idea that has emerged, and it is an idea at this stage, it to create an option to extend the implementation period for a matter of months. And it would only be for a matter of months.”
She added: “But the point is this is not expected to be used because we are working to ensure that we have that future relationship in place by the end of December 2020. I am clear that it is possible to do that and that is what we are working for. In those circumstances there will be no need for any proposal of this sort.”
But the move was met with fury from all sides of her party, with one former minister saying Conservative colleagues were now "close to despair" at the state of the negotiations.
Tory MP 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 because there is a fear that both the government and the European Union are trying to run out the clock."
He added: “That they’re trying to leave this so late that they can then credibly say there is no alternative but a no deal Brexit and most people agree that would be chaos. Now that is not an acceptable way for a leader of a government to behave.”
Meanwhile, Leave-supporting 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.”
On current plans, the UK's transition period - in which the Britain's relationship with the EU will remain broadly the same as it is now - is due to run expire on December 31 2020.
The row over its possible extension burst into the open despite the best efforts of Conservative party bosses, who pleaded with Tory backbenchers for “cool, calm heads”.
In a briefing sent to all Tory MPs by Conservative HQ, they said: "This is the time for cool, calm heads to prevail with a clear-eyed focus on the few remaining but critical issues that are still to be agreed."
Richard Tice, co-chair of the pro-Brexit Leave Means Leave group also slammed the move, saying: “The original transition was an unnecessary trap created by our weak civil servants who cannot be trusted as they don’t want us to leave. It should be cancelled not extended. It is increasingly clear the PM doesn’t want to leave either.
“Any transition period gives the EU zero incentive to negotiate anything and gives Brussels the power to force whatever they want onto the UK without us being able to do anything about it. It’s downright dangerous"
CHEQUERS 'LESS POPULAR THAN POLL TAX'
In a fresh sign of pressure on the Prime Minister, former Foreign Secretaty Boris Johnson and ex-Brexit Secretary David Davis teamed up to warn Mrs May that her Brexit plans were becoming "less popular with the public than the poll tax”.
In their first joint intervention since quitting the cabinet over the Prime Minister’s approach to Brexit, the pair wrote: “The Chequers Plan is flawed for reasons that are well known. It does not deliver what the country voted for and it means that the UK will remain bound to EU rules even though we would have no say over them."
The letter - shared with the Telegraph - is also signed by prominent backbenchers, including former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and influential Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg.
They urge the Prime Minister to “reset” the negotiations with Brussels, adding: “We urge you not to engage in a show of resistance and a choreographed argument followed by surrender and collapse into some version of the backstop and Chequers.”