An influential MP has launched an attempt to force the government to automatically delay Britain’s full departure from the EU until the end of 2022.
Nick Boles, who has been central in MPs’ efforts to avoid a no-deal Brexit, has tabled an amendment to Boris Johnson’s withdrawal agreement bill (WAB) to ensure the UK strikes a long-term trade deal with the EU.
It would force a minister to automatically extend the end of the post-Brexit transition period, during which the UK follow EU rules despite having left, from December 31 2020 to December 31 2022 unless MPs vote to the contrary or in the unlikely event a trade deal is struck by June.
It comes amid fears that the transition period could lapse after 14 months without a trade agreement being reached, leading to an effective “no deal” departure in December 2020.
Those concerns were stoked by hardline Brexiteer Tory John Baron last week, who said senior ministers Michael Gove and Dominic Raab had assured him that if trade talks fail, the UK would leave on effective “no deal” terms next year.
Boles said his amendment was “essential to stop hardline ERG members forcing through no-deal Brexit in December 2020”.
It come amids reports that ex-Tories including Philip Hammond, Rory Stewart and David Gauke were negotiating with Downing Street about supporting the government in key votes on Tuesday night, including on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill’s timetable, in return for ministers backing the Boles amendment.
The amendment presents possibly the most serious risk to Johnson passing his deal “clean” as it appears likely to get support from much of the coalition that voted for the so-called Benn act to block no deal last month.
But the PM may have to risk trying to vote it down, as hardline Brexiteers who currently support his deal could turn against it if Boles’ plan is included.
Influential Commons Brexit committee chair Hilary Benn, has already warned of an effective “no deal” if no trade agreement is struck during the transition because Johnson’s bill does not give MPs a safeguard against the period simply lapsing.
Benn said: “What happens if the government doesn’t propose an extension? Parliament would have no say and we would exit the transition period on the December 31 2020 even if a trade agreement hadn’t been reached by then with the EU; i.e. no deal.”