Jacob Rees-Mogg signals ‘short’ delay to Brexit may be acceptable

Remarks from leading Brexiteer follow government ministers raising the same prospect in recent days if extra time is needed to pass critical legislation

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Saturday 02 February 2019 10:45
Jeremy Hunt admits the government may need 'extra time' if a Brexit deal is agreed

Leading Conservative Eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg has signalled he may be prepared to accept a “short” delay to Brexit if it is required to finalise legislation around a deal.

His intervention follows several government ministers raising the same prospect in recent days as the legal deadline for Britain’s departure for leaving the EU, on 29 March, rapidly approaches.

Mr Rees-Mogg, who chairs the pro-Brexit European Research Group (ERG) of Tory MPs, used an article to outline how a brief extension to Article 50 “is not impossible”.

But he made clear in The Daily Telegraph that any delay must not be used for further “vacuous negotiations” with Brussels.

“Attempts to postpone the date of departure from the European Union beyond March 29 are little more than ploys to keep the United Kingdom as a member state in spite of the referendum and subsequent Acts of Parliament,” Mr Rees-Mogg said.

However, he accepted that, with 55 days left till Brexit day, the timetable is “tight” and, if a deal is struck, laws of such magnitude will demand proper scrutiny.

He continued: “The EU is an expert at deciding matters just before the deadline as it focuses the mind. Parliament can also legislate with considerable speed, but a law of this kind will need proper scrutiny.

“Thus, if the agreement were made but a little parliamentary time were needed, as long as the second reading had taken place a short extension is not impossible,” he said.

“Equally, to delay for the purpose of vacuous discussions would be solely to thwart Brexit. It must not be for that purpose and should be opposed if negotiations are incomplete.”

Earlier this week, foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said the government may need “extra time” to pass critical legislation needed for Britain’s exit from the bloc if Theresa May receives MPs’ support for her deal at the eleventh hour.

Pressed on the scheduled departure date, Mr Hunt told the BBC: “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.”

His cabinet colleague, the chancellor Philip Hammond, echoed his comments, adding the government may need a “little bit more time” in order to get crucial Bills through the House of Commons.

Questioned on comments from ministers in recent days, a spokesperson for the prime minister told reporters this week: “We are still leaving the European Union on 29 March and we remain committed to ensuring all the necessary legislation is in place by then.”

“It is a challenging timetable but we are making good progress,” they added.

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