Will Brexit be delayed?

Jeremy Hunt suggests the deadline might need to be extended, but Downing Street stands firm for now

UK and EU flags
(Image credit: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Britain may have to delay its departure from the EU even if a deal is agreed, Jeremy Hunt said yesterday.

The Foreign Secretary told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Brexit might need to be pushed back in order for key laws to be approved.

Asked when Brexit would happen, he said: “I think that depends on how long this process takes.”

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“If we ended up approving a deal in the days before March 29, then we might need some extra time to pass critical legislation. But if we are able to make progress sooner then that might not be necessary,” he added.

Hunt’s remarks “earned him a rebuke” from Downing Street even though his comments were “technically correct,” because there will come a point in March where it will no longer be possible to ratify a deal in time for the end of the month, says The Guardian.

Tom Newton Dunn, political editor at The Sun, tweeted that Hunt was the “most senior government minister yet to admit what everybody privately admits - Brexit is going to be delayed”.

When asked about the foreign secretary’s comments, Theresa May’s spokesperson insisted the government remains committed to leaving the bloc on 29 March.

Parliament's February break has been cancelled, which No 10 said showed all steps were being taken to avoid delay.

However, experts believe a delay is inevitable. “There’s a growing realisation in the EU that the UK might need longer to get its house in order than the UK itself realises,” Mujtaba Rahman, a former UK Treasury and European commission official, told The Guardian.

It is possible for the deadline to be extended, but it would require the unanimous approval of all EU member states.

The EU’s response is “far from certain,” says the Financial Times. Leaders are unlikely to turn down a request outright, but it would undoubtedly come with a number of terms and conditions, the paper says.

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator, has already said that an extension will not be given as a blank cheque. “We need to be absolutely clear that there should be a ‘plan’ before agreeing to it.”

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