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Brexit delays must be allowed if negotiations stall, MPs say

Photo by Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

An influential House of Commons committee has made a fresh push for delays to Britain's exit from the European Union if talks fail to make the necessary progress.

MPs warned that, even under the most optimistic scenario, there may not be enough time to complete all the work that is needed by the time the UK is scheduled to leave the bloc in March next year.

In a report, they repeated calls for an extension to the exit timetable if an agreement has not been finalised and called for the UK Government to secure a mechanism which would also allow for any transition period to be extended.

The Brexit Committee also said it did not accept that Britain would leave without a deal if the Commons rejected the agreement secured by Prime Minister Theresa May.

It called for the Government to allow a second parliamentary vote on a renegotiated settlement and said MPs and peers must be able to have a say on how the Government proceeds.

Mrs May saw off a threatened rebellion earlier this month that would have given MPs the chance to block a "no deal" Brexit.

Committee chairman Hilary Benn said: "It is now more than two years since the referendum and the Government has yet to agree on the customs arrangements it wants with our biggest, nearest and most important trading partner."

"We are told that most of the work on the withdrawal agreement is done, but the remaining issues represent some of the toughest questions the Prime Minister must grasp, and negotiations on the future partnership have yet to start in earnest."

The PM is in Brussels for a meeting of the European Council, which brings together EU leaders, where she is expected to be told that not enough progress has been made on resolving the Irish border problem.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned that time is running out for Britain to seal a withdrawal agreement with the EU by October.

Mrs May's former chief of staff, Nick Timothy, has said "the time for playing nice and being exploited is over" in exit talks and insisted Britain must "toughen up".

The committee called on the Government to clarify how legal provision will be made for any backstop solution for Northern Ireland.

It also said Parliament should have at least five days to debate the draft withdrawal agreement and the Speaker should be able to select a series of different amendments.

Mr Benn added: "Time is not on our side. The Bank of England is now adding to calls from business and unions for 'pace and urgency' in the Brexit negotiations, saying 'material risks' remain. This follows public warnings about the implications of a hard Brexit from firms such as Airbus and BMW."

"While the Cabinet continues to run down the clock as it tries to agree on a plan, it would be unconscionable if the House of Commons was not provided with the time and opportunity both for the fullest debate and to enable a clear expression of its opinion on the most significant decision our country has faced in a generation."

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