UK should consider extending Brexit talks, Commons panel says


LONDONThe UK is running short of time to reach a full deal with the European Union (EU) and should consider seeking an extension of next year’s withdrawal deadline in order to complete the work, the UK Parliament’s cross-party Brexit committee said.

The UK-EU talks are due to end by October, the deadline set by both sides, with Britain leaving the bloc at the end of next March. The committee said if substantial aspects of the future partnership remain unresolved at that time, the government should seek more time to ensure an agreement “sufficiently detailed and comprehensive” can be reached.

“In the short time that remains, it is difficult to see how it will be possible to negotiate a full, bespoke trade and market access agreement, along with a range of other agreements,” including on the Irish border, the committee said in a report released yesterday.

The proposed transition period set to start after the mandatory March 29, 2019, exit should also be capable of being extended, if necessary, the committee recommended. Under EU rules, countries seeking to exit the bloc have two years to work out details after formal notification. The UK is the first government to invoke the so-called Article 50 process.

“We are now at a critical stage in the negotiations, with just seven months left to reach agreement on a whole host of highly complex issues,” said Hilary Benn, a Labour party member and panel chairman. “While the committee welcomes the progress that has been made in some areas, the government faces a huge task” when the next phase of talks begin.

The committee also said “little progress” has been made on a solution to maintain an open border between Ireland in the EU and Northern Ireland in the UK, without instituting checks or adding physical infrastructure if the UK leaves the customs union and single market.

“The government must now come forward with credible, detailed proposals as to how it can operate a ‘frictionless border’ between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland because at the moment, the committee is not persuaded that this can be done at the same time as the UK is leaving the single market and the customs union,” Benn said.

UK Brexit Secretary David Davis will meet the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels today. A summit of EU leaders starts on Thursday. Davis has predicted a deal on a transition period will be finalised next week.