Enshrining Brexit deadline into law could harm Britain, say peers

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Dec 07, 2017
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David Davis has suggested a ‘bare bones’ if an agreement is not reached by March 2019

Andy Rain/EPA

Enshrining a Brexit deadline in domestic law would not be in the national interest, a House of Lords committee will say today.

The peers lambast pro-Brexit ministers for suggesting that a so-called no-deal Brexit was a palatable option, claiming that it is “impossible to envisage a worse outcome for the UK”.

The report argues that no deal would be economically damaging and “bring an abrupt end” to co-operation between the UK and EU on issues such as counterterrorism, police, security and nuclear safeguards. It would also necessitate the imposition of controls at the Irish border.

The committee questions the feasibility of a “bare bones” deal, as described by David Davis, the secretary of state for exiting the EU, in the event that a full agreement is not achieved. The peers agree with the Confederation of British Industry that this would in any case be a “very bad deal”.

“The biggest risk factor that might lead to a no deal outcome is time – the clock is ticking,” said Lord Jay of Ewelme, the committee’s acting chairman.

He said that although peers supported Davis’s ambition to secure a comprehensive agreement by March 29, 2019, “almost nobody outside the government thinks this will be possible. The negotiations may need to continue beyond that point, and enshrining the deadline in domestic law would not be in the national interest”.

Lord Jay added that “both sides agree that we will need a transition period, to give confidence to businesses and potentially to buy time to complete the negotiations. But the government hasn’t yet explained how transition will work, or what its basis will be in EU law.

“The evidence is clear that in legal terms the most secure way to buy time is to use one of the options that exist within Article 50 for a time-limited extension of the UK’s EU membership.”

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