Theresa May is set for another showdown with Tory backbenchers after it emerged the UK could be tied to EU rules for more than two years after Brexit.
The Prime Minister announced in September that a post-Brexit “implementation period” would last “around two years” from March 2019, during which the UK would follow the rules of the Single Market and customs union but have no say in them.
But a draft negotiation proposal – leaked to Bloomberg – shows the Government is open to that period extending beyond 2021 once the precise details of the future trade deal between the UK and EU have been thrashed out.
The revelation has provoked anger among Tory backbenchers, 62 of whom had already written to May urging her to firm up her position in the negotiations.
Reacting to the leaked document, former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, who signed the letter, said: “This is not government policy.
“The PM has said ‘up to two years’ as have all her Brexit ministers.
He added: “Someone needs to put a red line through this and write in the margin: ‘Not Government policy – re-write’.”
While May has talked of an implementation period lasting around two years, the EU’s Chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has called for an even shorter timeframe, with the new relationship in place by December 31 2020.
The implementation period, also dubbed a ‘transition phase’, is supposed ensure businesses only have to adjust to one set of changes to trading rules after Brexit.
The UK has vowed to follow the rules of the Single Market and customs union throughout the time period, but will not have a seat at any of the decision-making institutions.
Tory Brexiteer Jacob Rees Mogg, who chairs the European Research Group of Conservative MPs which signed the recent letter, has previously described this arrangement as leaving the UK as a “vassal state.”
In the draft document leaked to Bloomberg, it appears the UK Government is flexible on the length of the implementation period.
It reads: “The U.K. believes the period’s duration should be determined simply by how long it will take to prepare and implement the new processes and new systems that will underpin the future partnership
“The U.K. agrees this points to a period of around two years, but wishes to discuss with the EU the assessment that supports its proposed end date.”
Tory MP Andrew Bridgen, another signatory to the letter, is worried that such open-ended language will motivate Brussels to drag out negotiations on a final deal in order to keep getting money from the UK into the EU’s coffers.
He told HuffPost UK: “I am unhappy about it.
“In my 22 years of experience in business, negotiations go down to the wire and that’s why you need a wire.
“It’s clear the EU don’t want the UK to leave so it’s going to be in its interest to drag out negotiations for as long as possible.”
Commenting on implementation period, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said: “These things are a matter for negotiation. But we are clear it will be a strictly time-limited of around 24 months.”
“What the PM has said is she will be guided by how long it takes to get all the arrangements in place and we believe that will be around 24 months.”