Britain could ask the European Union for a long Brexit delay that gives the option to leave as soon as a divorce deal is approved by parliament, finance minister Philip Hammond indicated on Wednesday.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in Brussels that Britain would not get any further short delays unless its parliament ratified a deal by April 12 - the date set by EU leaders as the effective cut-off for avoiding the European Parliament elections.
Hammond said there did not have to be a vote on a deal by the April 10 EU Council summit, and that while there would be big advantages to doing that, it was probably unlikely.
“The important thing now is that in any extension that we get from the EU, we have clarity that as soon as we’ve done the deal, we are able to bring that extension to an end,” Hammond told ITV.
“So it’s less about the nominal length of time of the extension and more about the mechanism for bringing it to an end once the deal is done,” he said. “That would be our expectation.”
When asked if he was comfortable about a long extension, he said he was not comfortable about it, but that the defeat of Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal meant “we are where we are.”
Hammond said he hoped talks with the opposition Labour Party would quickly allow an understanding of whether a cross-party deal was viable.
“Some kind of customs arrangement is clearly going to be a part of the future structure,” Hammond said.
He said that if talks with Labour failed, the government would try to take ideas from the discussions and present them to parliament. If a deal was passed by the eve of the May elections, then they could be pulled, Hammond said.
The Sun newspaper said May would seek a delay of nine months.
As many as 15 ministers in May’s government are on the edge of resigning over her Brexit talks with the opposition Labour Party, The Sun reported.
Five of those considering resigning are cabinet ministers, the newspaper said.
“Many colleagues in government are seething and a lot of us are on the edge now,” the newspaper quoted one unidentified minister as saying.