The 30th March 2019 is the date in every Leave-backing MP’s mind. It is the first day Britain will be legally outside of the EU. But as I say in the magazine this week, Cabinet Brexiteers are concerned that this date may slip. One tells me that the UK is ‘likely to face at some point soon a huge amount of pressure to extend Article 50’.
At first, this seems surprising: why would the EU want to do that? After all, the ticking clock favours them in this negotiation. But this minister explains that the EU’s aim would be to extend Article 50 further without guaranteeing the UK the transition phase the government so desperately wants. Brussels would then use this period to extract more concessions.
What’s certain is that the Brexit talks are behind schedule. One influential figure at the Department for Exiting the European Union admits that the UK is ‘not going to get much out of June’, a reference to the EU Council meeting next week. Even those in No. 10 who are normally optimistic about how the process is going, now accept that the withdrawal agreement is unlikely to have been finalised by October.
One Davis ally tells me that talk about extending the withdrawal date deadline is ‘black ops by the EU’ and warns that any attempt to delay the UK’s departure would lead to the fall of the government. However, if the EU proposes a brief extension to Article 50, and threatens the transition process if the offer is turned down, the government’s failure to prepare for ‘no deal’ would make it very difficult for the UK to refuse.