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Brexit: Theresa May risks Tory row after suggesting UK may still be in EU after 2019

Published 21/11/2016

Prime Minister Theresa May
Prime Minister Theresa May

Theresa May has risked angering Tory Brexiteers after signalling the UK could stay in the European Union beyond 2019 as part of a ‘transitional deal’ that might not see it fully depart until years later.

The Prime Minister told business leaders she wants to avoid a "cliff edge" that would see the country suddenly drop out of the bloc.

Asked later if this meant Ms May was considering a transitional deal, a Downing Street spokesman confirmed that a "range of issues" are being explored by officials and then failed to rule out that it could mean the country remaining in the Union after 2019.

The Prime Minister first hinted at the potential route after addressing business groups today, who have raised concerns about the uncertainty brought about by a sudden change in the UK’s relationship with Europe.

She told the audience at the Confederation of British Industry: "People do not want a cliff edge."

Ms May has previously said she will invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty in March 2017, triggering Brexit talks, which according to EU rules should be completed in two years, with the UK then departing the union in 2019.

But questioned over whether Ms May’s comments to the CBI meant a ‘transitional deal’ may be sought, that could draw out the process beyond the two years, a Downing Street spokesperson said: "There are a whole range of issues that are being worked through as we prepare for negotiations, with a focus on how we get the best deal for the UK."

Asked specifically if one of the issues is a transitional deal, the spokesperson said: "There’s a whole range of work going on."

Questioned further on whether that may mean Brexit is delayed beyond 2019, the spokesperson highlighted that "there is a process whereby you can extend the Article 50 negotiations, but that requires the agreement of other member states."

Asked then if the Government wanted an extension, the spokesperson added only: "Our focus is on the best possible deal."

The potential option will likely anger Conservative eurosceptics who are gunning for the quickest possible break from the EU. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said negotiations should not "drag on", adding "let’s get on with it".

Richard Tice, co-chair of pro-Brexit pressure group Leave Means Leave, said: "A transitional deal will fuel more uncertainty and leave Britain in limbo.

"British voters have made it clear that they want to leave the EU and the Government must deliver on this in full and at the soonest opportunity – two years after triggering Article 50, or sooner if the EU fails to negotiate."

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