Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said that the UK may need “extra time” to pass critical Brexit legislation should a deal be decided upon in the days leading up to the 29th March deadline.
However, Hunt said that the possible delay would depend on what progress can be made in the in the next few weeks.
MPs have voted for Theresa May to seek “alternative arrangements” to the Irish backstop, after rejecting her Brexit deal earlier this month. But the EU has rejected the UK’s calls to renegotiate the withdrawal deal.
The UK is due to leave the European Union at 23:00 on 29 March. The backstop is an “insurance” policy to stop the return of checks on goods and people along the Northern Ireland border.
Earlier this month, Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom said that the EU may be prepared to grant the UK a “couple of extra weeks” beyond the 29 March deadline to finalise preparations for Brexit.
But Downing Street has said an extension to Article 50 is not being considered and the government remains “committed to doing whatever it takes to have the statute books ready for when we leave the EU on 29 March this year”.
“It is true that if we ended up approving the deal in the days before the 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.”Jeremy Hunt
May has been talking to EU leaders, including President of the European Council Donald Tusk and the Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, after MPs voted on Tuesday for her to make changes to the backstop.
Hunt said the commitment to the Good Friday Agreement – which protects against the return of a hard Irish border – would need to be demonstrated. The EU’s concerns that the UK could “access the single market by the back door” would also need to be alleviated, he said.
“If we can overcome those two issues, which I think we can, then we will be able to have substantive discussions. But this is not going to happen in the next few days.”Jeremy Hunt