Brexit: Jeremy Hunt slapped down by Downing Street for suggesting EU exit may have to be delayed

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Thursday 31 January 2019 12:51
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Jeremy Hunt admits the government may need 'extra time' if a Brexit deal is agreed

Jeremy Hunt has been slapped down by Downing Street after suggesting that Brexit may have to be delayed past the UK’s legal exit date.

The foreign secretary had suggested the government would need more time, but Theresa May‘s spokesman insisted the UK would leave on 29 March and said Number 10 was doing all it could to ensure necessary legislation is passed in time.

It comes as the government also confirmed that it would cancel the February recess in order to create more sitting days in the commons to debate Brexit and work on required new laws.

Asked about Mr Hunt’s words, Ms May’s spokesman said: “Our position on that remains that we are determined to have everything in place in order for us to leave on 29 March this year.

“The fact that recess won’t be taking place and MPs will be sitting shows you that we will be taking all available steps to make sure that March 29 is our exit date.”

The Indpendent reported at the start of January that Brexit was set to be delayed regardless even if Ms May did a manage to have her deal ratified by the commons – something which has not yet happened.

Mr Hunt was speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme when he was asked about the exact date that the UK would leave the EU, responding: “I think that depends on how long this process takes.

“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.”

Commons leader Andrea Leadsom also announced on Thursday that parliament’s week-long recess in February has been cancelled in order to deal with the sheer amount of Brexit legislation.

The House was expected to rise at the end of business on February 14 and return on February 25, but Ms Leadsom said she had no intention to bring forward a motion on the recess dates and said MPs “may therefore need to continue to sit to make progress” on Brexit legislation.

Ms May is due to hold further talks on Thursday with Tory MPs from the Remain and Leave wings of the party, who put forward the idea of exploring technological and other solutions as an alternative to the backstop to ensure no hard border in Ireland after Brexit.

On Wednesday, Business Secretary Greg Clark said such technological solutions were not currently available. But Ms May’s spokesman said: “It is right that we do this work.

“It is something that we have said we would be keen to take forward and work on with the EU.

“It was set out in the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration that this was something both parties were committed to looking at as an alternative means of guaranteeing there would be no hard border in Northern Ireland.”

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