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  1. ITV Report

May says short extension to Brexit transition period could be best for British interests

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen

Theresa May has told the House of Commons that a short extension to the Brexit transition period may be best for British interests, despite opposition to this plan from many within her own party.

In a Commons statement following last week's EU summit in Brussels, the prime minister said an extension would be an alternative to the Northern Ireland backstop proposal.

Mrs May told MPs that 95% of the UK's divorce deal from the European Union was complete, but despite the leaps forward, she warned the Irish border remained the “one real sticking point left and a considerable one”.

The House had enshrined a commitment to a guarantee of no return to a hard border in Ireland in the EU Withdrawal Agreement, the prime minister said, but she remained unwilling to accept the EU's backstop that could create a customs border down the Irish Sea.

Mrs May said there were four main points that needed to be agreed upon before a deal could be struck, including the option to extend the implementation period as an alternative to the backstop, adding that these "insurance policies" were not something that the EU or UK wanted.

Mrs May acknowledged that a transition period may be necessary but would have to be completed well before the end of the parliament in June 2022.

Corbyn blamed the current Brexit impasse on Tory incompetence. Credit: PA

She said: "There are some limited circumstances in which it could be argued that an extension to the implementation period might be preferable, if we were certain it was only for a short time," she said.

"For example, a short extension to the implementation period would mean only one set of changes for businesses - at the point we move to the future relationship.

"But in any such scenario we would have to be out of this implementation period well before the end of this parliament."

In response, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn argued the government had been forced to consider extending the transition period as a result of "its own incompetence".

He said: "The Conservative Party has spent the last two years arguing with itself instead of negotiating a sensible deal in the public interest.

"Even at this crucial point they're still bickering amongst themselves."

Jeremy Corbyn said the government Brexit negotiations were a 'shambolic failure. Credit: PA

Mr Corbyn told MPs that Labour's plan to negotiate a continued membership of a customs union with the European Union would resolve the current impasse.

He said a customs union would provide a "simple solution" to the Northern Ireland border issue, adding: "It's a solution that not only benefits Northern Ireland but would help safeguard skilled jobs in every region and nation of Britain."

Both Britain and Ireland agreed in December 2017 that the backstop must maintain cross-border cooperation; support the all-island economy and protect the Good Friday peace agreement.

But they do not agree on how to ensure these commitments; the EU want a backstop that would mean Northern Ireland remaining in the customs union and parts of the single market. But the UK are not happy with this solution as this would essentially separate the UK and Northern Ireland with a customs border down the Irish Sea.

The prime minister dismissed calls for a second referendum. Credit: PA

The prime minister gave a nod to her taxing week, which saw her coming up against opposition in both Brussels and Britain as hardline Tory Brexiteers once again threatened to trigger a vote of no confidence in her, saying she was prepared to take the hard knocks for the good of the country.

She said: "Before any decision, I ask, how can I deliver the Brexit that the British people voted for? How do I best take back control of our money, borders and laws? How do I best protect jobs and make sure nothing gets in the way of our brilliant entrepreneurs and small businesses?

"How do I best protect the integrity of our precious United Kingdom and protect the historic progress we have made in Northern Ireland?

"And if doing those things means I get difficult days in Brussels, then so be it."

Mrs May stood firm on her stance against a second referendum despite the large numbers who turned out to march in London on Saturday calling for a People's Vote, while Mr Corbyn's apparent call for the prime minister to trigger a general election was met with jeers and laughter from the Tory benches.

May faces opposition from within her own party. Credit: PA

Many MPs, including Mr Corbyn, took the opportunity to condemn violent language used by an anonymous Conservative backbencher in an article in the Sunday Times that told the prime minister to "bring her own noose" to a meeting.

Former Brexit minister Steve Baker said he hoped Theresa May would withdraw the whip from the MP who directed "violent language" at the prime minister.

Yvette Cooper said: "The prime minister and I have had many disagreements on many things, but I stand with her completely against the violent, dehumanising and frankly misogynistic language.

"I hope the whole House will condemn because it demeans every single one of us."