Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 20 May 2019

Brexit deadline may be extended admits Jeremy Hunt

The cabinet member delivered passionate defence of backstop position

Britain's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said if a deal was agreed close to the March 29 deadline, an extension may be needed. AFP 
Britain's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said if a deal was agreed close to the March 29 deadline, an extension may be needed. AFP 

The UK may need to extend the Brexit deadline in the case of a late deal passing Parliament, Britain’s foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt has said.

Mr Hunt said that a delay may be needed to pass necessary legislation to replace issues currently covered by the EU.

“If we ended up approving a deal in the days before 29 March, then we might need some extra time to pass critical legislation,” Mr Hunt said.

“We can’t know at this stage exactly which of those scenarios would happen.”

In making his comments on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Hunt has become the first senior MP to admit a delay may happen. When questioned on the matter in the past, Theresa May has insisted the UK will leave the EU as currently scheduled on March 29.

The former health secretary also made an impassioned defence of the Good Friday Agreement, which EU officials have said is at risk from a no-deal situation.

“Our commitment to the Belfast, Good Friday agreement, is absolutely unconditional,” he said.

“In fact, it is quite distressing for people like me and you, who grew up in the 1980s with bombs going off in Harrods or in Hyde Park and all over the country. Any suggestion that we would ever waver in our support for the peace process, which was the greatest achievement of both John Major and Tony Blair, is absolutely nonsense.”

He also said the UK needed to prove to the EU that any changes to the Northern Irish backstop enshrined in the current deal with the bloc were not an attempt to access the single market by the back door . Once these two elements were complete, he said, a resolution may may be possible.

"But this is not going to happen in the next few days. We have to put these proposals together, we have to work them up, we have to go through them in detail with our partners in the EU,” he said.

MPs on the opposite side of the aisle took issue with Mr Hunt’s assertion that the backstop issue could be so easily resolved. MP for Tottenham and ardent remainer David Lammy said Mr Hunt “either expects a fifth industrial revolution that will transform border technology in the next 57 days, or else he is just talking horse manure.”

Meanwhile European leaders are moving to ensure that if there is a new phase of the Brexit negotiation it will represent the last act in the saga.

Mujtaba Rahman, a consultant and former European official, said that member states would accept an extension but only with conditions. “There’s a growing realisation in the EU that the UK might need longer to get its house in order than the UK itself realises," he said. “The bar to extending article 50 for the EU will be quite low – leaders love to kick the can. If there is a contentious issue, it’s more about the length of any article 50 extension as opposed to the principle of whether there should be one.”

Updated: January 31, 2019 08:45 PM