London, Feb 13 (IANS) UK’s Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay on Wednesday downplayed the possibility of Prime Minister Theresa May seeking an extension to the negotiation period with the bloc in order to avoid a no-deal Brexit.
Barclay responded to questions on the BBC’s flagship morning politics radio show after UK’s chief Brexit negotiator Olly Robbins was apparently overheard in a Brussels bar saying that May would ask lawmakers to vote on whether they wanted to extend the negotiation period.
Declining to comment on the details of the recording, published by ITV News, Barclay said it was still May’s policy to leave the bloc on March 29, two years after the Conservative Party leader triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which officially notified the EU of the UK’s intention to leave and launched the negotiation period.
“It’s not in anyone’s interest to have an extension without any clarity,” Barclay said.
In the recording, civil servant Robbins appeared to say the PM would in March give Members of Parliament in the House of Commons, the lower chamber of UK lawmaking, a choice to either back her withdrawal deal, which has struggled to make it through the Commons, or to extend Article 50, according to Efe news.
May’s withdrawal deal, the result of over 18 months of negotiations with the EU, became lodged in the Commons after lawmakers rejected it by a historical margin last month then later passed an amendment to find legally-binding changes to the Irish backstop insurance policy on the open border in Ireland.
The backstop, one of the key pillars of the document, was rejected by right-wing Tories and the Democratic Unionist Party, a Northern Irish group propping up May’s government, who said its constituents were opposed to any possibility that the UK territory could be subject to EU regulations while the rest of the UK was not.
The clause is a safety net policy to ensure there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland if future talks with Brussels suddenly collapse.
In a Commons address on Tuesday, May was adamant that she can convince the EU to tweak the backstop, either by finding a so-called alternative arrangement, which the UK government was yet to specify, or by adding a fixed expiry date, or by granting the UK powers to unilaterally withdraw from it.
Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn accused the Tory leader of running down the clock on Brexit in a bid to get MPs to back her deal.
The EU has repeatedly warned that the withdrawal agreement would not be opened for further renegotiations – the bloc’s institutions and remaining members states have already signed off on it.