Brussels ‘planning transition extension’ which would DELAY BREXIT to summer 2021
European Commission officials are said to be pushing for the optional clause to the transition period to protect the bloc’s interests and allow it “more leeway”.
They are reportedly biding their time and planning to introduce the extension later on in negotiations when the UK may be more willing to accept it.
If the withdrawal agreement was changed, and the Government took up the extension, it could tie Britain to the EU until summer 2021.
During the transition, the UK will continue to be bound by the bloc’s rules but have no say in any new regulations which are imposed.
EU negotiators have previously said the transition will end by December 31, 2020.
But two Brussels sources told the Independent the EU is now pushing for the change to protect its own interests.
One said: “Of course they are aware of the sensitivity around the issue in London, but it is about giving the Commission more leeway if needed, at the end of the transition to get things in place.”
A second said an optional extension was needed as a safety precaution because of the uncertainty surrounding the British position on the split.
News of the Commission’s plans comes as Theresa May is facing calls to extend the transition to ensure any new customs union system can be properly implemented.
Mrs May’s former Chief of Staff Nick Timothy this week urged the Prime Minister to abandon her preferred option of a customs partnership in favour of a “maximum facilitation” customs arrangement.
The proposed “max fac” option would use new technology and “trusted trader” schemes to remove the need for customs checks and a hard border between the UK and EU.
Mr Timothy said this option was still viable as “ministers might accept that it will take longer to be introduced than the current implementation timetable suggests”.
Pro-Remain ministers are reportedly in favour of Mrs May’s customs partnership plan, which would see the UK collect tariffs on the EU’s behalf then reimburse Brussels through a complex rebate system.
But EU negotiators have already labelled the idea unworkable.
The “maximum facilitation” option has the backing of Brexiteers including Boris Johnson, but Brussels has also expressed concerns over whether this system would work in practice.
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