Belfast Telegraph

Theresa May urged to keep focus on getting a deal as Brexit may be put on hold

Jeremy Hunt
Jeremy Hunt
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

The DUP has said the Government's focus must be on renegotiating the withdrawal agreement with Brussels as a senior Cabinet member warned Brexit may have to be delayed to finalise legislation.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Article 50 might need to be extended if progress isn't made in talks with the EU in coming weeks.

But Downing Street appeared to contradict Mr Hunt. At a media briefing, a spokesman for Theresa May said: "The Prime Minister's position on this is unchanged. We will be leaving on March 29."

Responding to Mr Hunt's remarks, a DUP spokesman told the Belfast Telegraph: "The priority must be to reach a deal which commands a majority in line with what the House of Commons voted for on Tuesday. That's where the focus must be rather than speculation on the process of passing subsequent legislation."

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said: "The UK is very far behind in preparations for a no deal crashout. Indeed, it is impossible to prepare properly for that scenario.

"But even in the context in which the UK can agree the withdrawal agreement, it is now almost impossible to take all of the legislative steps.

"The UK has had plenty of time to prepare for Brexit, but has been hampered by delusions and contradictory objectives. If there is to be a modicum of sanity, then some form of extension seems inevitable."

TUV leader Jim Allister last night said the clear motivation of many people seeking to extend Article 50 was to deny Brexit.

"It is only by holding firm both to the 29th March timeline and the no-deal option that there is any prospect of Brussels budging," he said.

"The common denominator of advocacy for delay and taking no-deal off the table is a desire to remain, not leave. Thus, both must be rejected."

Earlier Mr Hunt warned Brexit could be delayed to enable the Government to pass crucial legislation if a deal was not agreed until late March.

He said it was "difficult to know" if negotiations with Brussels would run until the eleventh hour, but confirmed that "extra time" may be needed to pass laws.

But Downing Street insisted Mrs May was "determined" to ensure that all the necessary arrangements would be in place for the UK to leave on March 29.

Mr Hunt's suggestion was echoed by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who said it was "possible" Article 50 would need to be extended in order to secure a deal.

It came as the Institute for Government (IFG) said the UK is unprepared for a no-deal exit as there would be "extremely damaging" disruption.

The think tank predicted that in eight out of 11 broad policy areas, including health and borders, the Government would be unable to avoid "major negative impacts".

IFG director Bronwen Maddox told the BBC the UK is "not ready for no-deal", adding: "The disruption from no-deal - simply from the lack of preparation - would be extremely damaging. It cannot be dismissed as a mere blip."

Mr Hunt told Radio 4's Today programme: "I think it is true that if we ended up approving a deal in the days before 29 March then we might need some extra time to pass critical legislation, but if we are able to make progress sooner, then that might not be necessary.

"We can't know at this stage exactly which of those scenarios would happen."

He said it was still possible to reach a deal, as a consensus in Parliament had emerged, and added that the Government is not ruling out any potential solutions, including a technological solution to solve the Irish border question.

Meanwhile, speaking in Derbyshire, Mr Corbyn told reporters: "It is possible that there will have to be an extension in order to get an agreement because we cannot leave the EU on March 29 without an agreement.

"Crashing out would mean problems of transport, problems of medicine supply, problems of supply to the food processing industry that does just in time deliveries - and that simply is not acceptable.

"This Government has had two-and-a-half years to negotiate and has failed to do so."

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