David Davis: EU could ‘stop the clock’ to agree final deal

The government is tying itself in knots over Brexit with Davis now suggesting EU may ‘stop the clock’ to agree final deal. This can only be done by extending the negotiating period, which the prime minister has already ruled out.

If you’re seeking clarity on Brexit, listening to the Brexit secretary give evidence to the House of Commons Brexit committee may not be the best idea. David Davis gave evidence to the committee this morning where he suggested a vote in Parliament may not take place until after the UK’s withdrawal. He also suggested the EU may ‘stop the clock’ to get a final deal agreed.

If there is a time limit on a negotiation the union stops the clock, it assumes that it’s still at 11:59 until it is concluded, sometimes over the course of 24, 36, 72 hours thereafter and that’s what I imagine it will be.

David Davis, Brexit secretary

Labour MP Seema Malhotra asked Davis for clarification on the Brexit timetable with regard to agreements on a transition deal and on the withdrawal agreement. Davis said the government aimed to agree transition arrangements by the end of March next year. This is because EU leaders won’t make a decision on whether to expand Brexit talks to include a transition phase and future trade until its December council. However, on the timetable for the withdrawal agreement, the Brexit secretary’s response seemed a little less clear. Davis said that as elements of the withdrawal agreement – particularly with regard to the Irish border – relate to the future relationship, agreeing it “will be coterminous with the forward relationship.” This supports recent comments made by the Brexit secretary and prime minister that the withdrawal agreement and future trade deal could be agreed at the same time and within the next 12 months.

Government putting transition at risk with deadline to agree final deal

Pushed further on the timetable for a parliamentary vote on the final deal, Davis said MPs may not get a vote until after the UK’s withdrawal in March 2019. This is because negotiations may not conclude until the last minute. But Davis said the EU could stop the clock to allow more time to get the deal finalised. He then clarified the process for agreeing the final deal saying that once a deal had been reached in negotiations, it would go to Parliament for a vote and then to the European parliament before a vote by the European council.

The EU has maintained that negotiations on a withdrawal agreement, which could include transition arrangements, must conclude by next October to allow for ratification by the UK’s withdrawal in March 2019. Davis paints a rather different picture that suggests negotiations could go beyond the UK’s withdrawal date. But this is dependent on the EU ‘stopping the clock’. Because if it doesn’t and no deal is ratified by 11.59pm on 29 March 2019, the UK will simply leave the EU with ‘no deal’.

Of course, the cliff edge could be avoided if the two sides agree to implement transition arrangements beforehand. The problem with this, however, is the government now says that it will not implement a transition deal unless it has finalised a future trade deal with the EU. So by Davis’ reasoning, the EU will need to stop the clock to avoid the UK leaving with ‘no deal’ and no transition arrangements.

And the only way for the clock on Article 50 talks can be stopped is for EU member states to agree to extend the negotiating period. Two weeks ago, at PMQs, the prime minister ruled out this out. After Davis’ answer, Malhotra said “I’m not sure I feel much clearer.” Neither are we.

Theresa May rules out extending Article 50 period

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