Theresa May has suggested the Brexit transition period could be extended, but not beyond the next general election.
The transition period – during which the UK will remain tied to EU rules – is currently due to finish at the end of 2020. The next election is scheduled for June 2022.
But Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, has suggested transition could be extended until December 2022 in order to give more time for a final trade agreement to be reached.
The current text of the draft Withdrawal Agreement, which May presented to her Cabinet last week, states the transition period may be extended once to an ambiguous date of “20XX”.
The prime minister said today: “From my point of view, I think it is important in delivering for the British people that we are out of the implementation period before the next general election.”
Downing Street said the UK did not think there would be a “need” to extend transition and was focused on finalising the future relationship by January 1 2021.
But a spokesman for the PM added: “As we’ve said, clearly it makes sense to have the option of extending the implementation period as an alternative to the backstop, in case the future relationship isn’t ready for some reason.”
Business Secretary Greg Clark this morning there was “value in having an option” of extending transition rather than having to temporarily activate the controversial backstop plan.
Less than a week before a European Council summit, where EU leaders are due to rubber stamp the Prime Minister’s deal, she is braced for fresh attacks from inside and outside her own party.
After a week which saw Cabinet ministers resign over the Brexit deal and the campaign to replace May broke cover, all eyes will be on Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee.
Speculation is mounting over whether he has received the 48 letters of no confidence required to challenge her leadership of the Conservative Party.
Conservative MP Anne Marie Morris said this morning there was “no question” that the threshold would be reached this week.
But environment minister Therese Coffey said if there was to be a vote of no confidence May would “win it convincingly”.
May will used her speech at the CBI conference today to face down rebels in her own party who want last minute changes made to her deal.
The prime minister said the withdrawal agreement has been “agreed in full”.
Andrea Leadsom, the pro-Brexit Commons leader, has said there is “still the potential to improve” the draft.