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Brexit minister downplays article 50 extension

Brexit minister downplays article 50 extension

The Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, has played down the possibility of an extension to article 50 as the UK prepares to leave the European Union. His comments follow reports on Tuesday night that Theresa May’s chief negotiator, Olly Robbins, was overheard in a Brussels bar saying MPs would be given a last-minute choice between her…


The Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, has played down the possibility of an extension to article 50 as the UK prepares to leave theEuropean Union.

His comments follow reports on Tuesday night that Theresa May’s chief negotiator,Olly Robbins, was overheard in a Brussels barsaying MPs would be given a last-minute choice between her deal and a lengthy delay to Britain’s departure from the EU.

The prime minister has repeatedly insisted the government intends to leave the EU as planned on 29 March, and on Tuesday urged MPs toholdtheir nervewhile she tried to renegotiate changes to the Irish backstop.

An ITV reporter overheard Robbins, the most senior civil servant involved in theBrexitprocess, appearing to suggest in a late-night conversation that May would wait until March – and then give MPs the choice between backing her, or accepting a long extension to article 50.

In an appearance on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Barclay declined to comment on Robbins’s comments, which he said were overheard in a “noisy bar”, but added that an extension was not the government’s plan and would not only be a decision for the UK government.

The Brexit secretary, who met senior MEPs in Strasbourg on Tuesday, added: “What came over was actually that it is not in anyone’s interests to have an extension without any clarity. It is actually very disruptive to the European parliament.

“They have, obviously, elections for the parliament and a commission that will be formed at the end of May, so there is no desire on the European side to see what one described to me as an ‘extension in darkness’, where there is no clarity as to why we are extending.

“It is not in anyone’s interest to have an extension … with no clarity.”

Questioned aboutbusiness leaders’fears about import and export duties, border controls and customs procedures in the event of no deal, Barclay said the government would release more information soon.

“A deal is the way that we will actually address those concerns in parliament and ensure we give businesses the confidence they need,” he said.

Asked whether the government would tell businesses what tariffs they would have to pay if the UK left without a deal, Barclay said: “We expect to give further information on that in the coming days.”

The government has promised to roll over 40 current EU free trade deals with 70 different countries, so they will still apply to the UK under a no-deal Brexit.

But documentsdisclosed by the Sunshowed that just six deals were expected to be ready in time for when the UK leaves on 29 March.

They are the four already agreed, with Switzerland – signed on Monday, Chile, an eastern and southern African block, and the Faroe Islands, while deals with Israel and the Palestinian Authority were “on track”.

Amber warnings have been applied over deals with nine countries, including South Korea and Canada, which means they are seen as “off-track” in terms of being achievable by 29 March.

Red and black warnings have been applied to 23 other EU deals, including those with big trading partners Japan, Turkey and Mexico, meaning they were given no chance of being completed by 29 March. They have been classed as either “significantly off-track” or “not possible to be completed”.

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