Brexit ‘could be delayed until late 2019’ with Whitehall departments not yet ready to trigger Article 50

‘They say they don’t even know the right questions to ask when they finally begin bargaining with Europe’

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Ministers are reportedly in discussions over a delay in triggering Article 50, the formal process of leaving the European Union, which could see Britain remain a member of the bloc until late 2019.

Theresa May, who is expected by many to trigger the two-year process of leaving the EU in early 2017, could push back the timetable because her new Brexit and international trade departments will not be ready, sources in the City of London have told The Sunday Times. Elections on the continent, including those in France and Germany, could also delay Article 50 of the Libson Treaty being triggered. 

“Ministers are now thinking the trigger could be delayed to autumn 2017,” a source who has reportedly had discussions with two senior ministers told the newspaper. “They don’t have the infrastructure for the people they need to hire,” the source added, in reference to the new Whitehall departments being set up from scratch to handle the Brexit negotiations.

“They say they don’t even know the right questions to ask when they finally begin bargaining with Europe,” the source said.

A Downing Street spokesperson said: “The Prime Minister has been clear that a top priority for this government is to deliver the decision of the British people to leave the EU and to make a success of Brexit. The PM has set out the government’s position on Article 50 and has established a new department dedicated to tacking forward the negotiations”.

Peter Bone, the Conservative MP for Wellingborough who campaigned to leave the EU told The Independent, however, that he would have thought Ms May would want to avoid delaying the process.

He said: “I just think it’s speculation. I would have thought that was the last thing the Prime Minister would want because she’ll want Brexit done and dusted a long time before the next general election because she’ll want it to be her election. She won’t want it to be clouded by Brexit… I think people who are pro leaving the EU just want to make sure there is a process in place and we have confidence in David [Davis] and Liam [Fox] and the PM. 

“It really doesn’t matter as long as we get it right. The worry from people from my perspective, there are a lot of people who don’t want it to happen, there a lot in the establishment that don’t want it it happen. People like myself will be making sure in Parliament that it does happen. I don’t think we’ll really know much more about this until October.

“My guess is that the last thing the Prime Minister would want is for this to be delayed.”

Ms May previously warned that she would not trigger Article 50 this year and has said she would not formally start the process of leaving the bloc until there was a coherent “UK approach” to negotiations. Once the process is triggered then negotiations must be concluded within a two year period and a request for extending the agreement needs the ratification of the 27 other EU member states.

Angela Merkel insists Article 50 must be triggered before Brexit talks

Referring to the upcoming French and German elections, another source told The Sunday Times: “You can’t negotiate when you don’t know who you’re negotiating with.” Sadiq Khan, the London Mayor, has also advocated delaying the process until the autumn of 2017.

“I lost the argument and now it's for them to persuade the EU how we can get the best of both worlds, how it's possible to have access to the single market and not have free movement of labour,” Mr Khan told Sky News.

“Maybe waiting for French and German elections to be out of the way gives the new French president or German chancellor more of a chance for latitude for some of the things that the British public say we need.”

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