The Brexit transition period in which Britain’s relationship with the EU does not change should extend beyond the next UK general election so that “we can see what the outcome” of the vote is, a key figure in talks has said.
Philippe Lamberts, a member of the European Parliament’s exclusive Brexit steering group, told a press conference that nobody believed the period “can be just 21 months” as proposed by the EU commission.
Mr Lamberts’s proposal comes after British negotiators hinted that they wanted a longer period in Brussels’ orbit than the end date of December 31 2020. The extension would change the dynamic of the Brexit debate because it would mean a new government elected in 2022 could make changes to Brexit – or even cancel it – without any disruption.
Elmar Brok, another member of the steering group who is a member of the powerful European People’s Party group, also hinted that the transition’s length was not a done deal, describing its duration as “however long it is” while speaking in plenary.
The Independent understands that the view that the transition should be longer is widely held in private among members of the steering group.
Mr Lamberts, who was elected as a Belgian green MEP, told reporters: “On the transition period I don’t think anyone in this room believes that this transition can be just 21 months. I think we should be honest, it’s going to be a lot longer than that.
“The transition period should be as long as necessary. My position is it should go beyond the next general election in the UK so we can see what the outcome of that is.”
He also said that if the UK decided ultimately to stay in the single market and customs union, the country should get “some kind of privileged channel of communication with the European Union institutions” when it came to implementing new EU rules – as sought by Labour.
“Having some kind of channel for the UK to express its concerns through the transition period and if it remains a member of the single market and customs union, I think that is normal – that it would have some kind of privileged channel of communication with the European Union institutions,” he said.
“Not to have decision, but to be able to raise its concerns and to pass on its suggestions. I think that would be the very least of things and it would not be a bad thing for the EU to propose that.”
The Brexit steering group consists of five senior MEPs from across the European Parliament and helps draw up the body’s policy on Brexit, under the aegis of chief coordinator Guy Verhofstadt, who is technically a sixth member of the group.
Eurosceptic Tory MPs have raised concerns about the transition period, describing the situation as making the UK a “vassal state” of the bloc because it would involve following EU rules without any say in shaping them.
But Theresa May has said she wants a transition of “around two years” and UK negotiators have called for the length of the period offered by the EU to be reassessed.