Brexit bill to rule out extension to transition period

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BBC is reporting that the UK government is to add a new clause to the Brexit bill to rule out any extension to the transition period beyond the end of next year.

The post-Brexit transition period – due to conclude in December 2020 –  can currently be extended by mutual agreement for up to two years.

But an amended Withdrawal Agreement Bill the Commons is set to vote on this week would rule out any extension.

The PM told MPs it would put an end to years of “deadlock, dither and delay”.

As the House of Commons assembled for the first time since the election, Boris Johnson said his priority was to “get Brexit done”. He also promised to seek “common ground” and to approach politics with a “new and generous spirit” after the rancour of recent years.

Jeremy Corbyn congratulated the Conservative leader on his victory but said he would be “judged” on whether he delivered on the “many, many promises” he made during the campaign, including to longstanding Labour voters.

The UK is set to leave the EU on 31 January, more than three and a half years after the public backed Brexit in a referendum.

Soon after, the two sides will begin talking about their future economic relationship, including controversial areas such as fishing rights, consumer and environmental standards and financial services.

Trade deals typically takes many years to conclude and senior EU figures are sceptical that a deal can be agreed within that time. If it is not, the economic relationship will default to World Trade Organization (WTO) terms, with the likelihood of tariffs on imports and exports.

The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said the bloc would “do the maximum” to finalise the deal in time. Asked about the UK’s refusal to contemplate any extra time for the talks, he said “it is the British choice to choose the procedure it wants”.

This is a political signal, a moment of early chest beating too, designed to disappoint those who might have been hoping No 10 might slide to a softer Brexit over the next few months.

And designed to gratify those who are adamant that Brexit must be completely “done” as soon as possible.

Boris Johnson seems to have concluded that if the talks are to go anywhere fast, there has to be a convincing clear deadline.

It was his vow of a Halloween deadline that got him to Downing Street in the first place, and although it was broken in the end, there’s little question that his attitude towards extending again and again changed the dynamics of the talks with the EU that got the revised deal done.

Putting the deadline into law may also be designed to focus minds in Brussels. How effective that might be? That’s a different question.

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said the PM’s move was “reckless and irresponsible” and he argued that Mr Johnson was “prepared to put people’s jobs at risk”.

Liberal Democrat interim leader Sir Ed Davey said: “The only way Johnson can meet the December 2020 timetable is by giving up all his previous promises to Leave voters and agreeing to all the demands of the EU.”

Downing Street has said the government plans to ask the new Parliament to have its first debate and vote on the withdrawal agreement – the legislation needed to ratify Brexit – on Friday.

With a majority of 80 following Thursday’s general election, Mr Johnson is expected to get the bill into law with few changes in time for the UK to end its EU membership on 31 January.

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