Theresa May has been warned not to accept European Union plans which would leave the UK a “colony” of Brussels for two years after Brexit.
The Prime Minister has been given a boost on two fronts of the Brexit battle after a compromise deal within the Tory ranks means she looks set to avoid a second Commons defeat and EU leaders formally agreed to move on to the next phase of talks.
But Mrs May faces further difficulties in the next phase of talks with Brussels as Tory Eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg insisted she must reject the guidelines for a transitional deal set out by the EU.
And former Cabinet minister Sir Oliver Letwin warned that the “extraordinarily difficult” second stage of the Brexit negotiations would be harder than the first.
The Prime Minister has made clear she wanted talks on post-Brexit trade relations with the EU to begin “straight away”, as the UK continues with its goal of negotiating a deal which can be signed immediately after the official date of departure..
Her target was described as “realistic” but “dramatically difficult” to achieve by the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk.
A four-page document sets out the EU’s guidelines for the next stage of negotiations, including the process for agreeing the terms of a transition period expected to last two years after the date of Brexit.
It makes clear that the EU expects the UK to observe all of its rules – including on freedom of movement – and accept the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice during this time.
It also set up a potential clash with London over Mrs May’s hopes of negotiating early trade agreements with countries outside the EU, stating firmly that the UK will stay in the single market and customs union during transition and will “continue to comply with EU trade policy”, which bars deals by individual states.
The restrictions imposed by the EU’s position were rejected by Mr Rees-Mogg, who said the Prime Minister must not agree to them.
“We cannot be a colony of the European Union for two years from 2019 to 2021, accepting new laws that are made without any say-so of the British people, Parliament or Government,” he told BBC’s Newsnight.
“That is not leaving the European Union, that is being a vassal state of the European Union, and I would be very surprised if that were Government policy.”
Meanwhile, in Westminster the prospect of a humiliating second defeat on the Government’s Brexit legislation diminished after behind-the-scenes efforts resulted in a compromise which is acceptable to would-be rebels who were set to reject Mrs May’s plan to write March 29 2019 into law as the date of the UK’s departure from the bloc.
The Government is understood to be “looking closely” at the amendment tabled by Tory MPs from both sides on the Brexit divide which would give ministers flexibility to change the departure day if Parliament agrees.
Ministers have not formally supported the move but it would appear certain the Government will back the measure if it presented a way for Mrs May to avoid another Commons reverse.
Former Cabinet minister Sir Oliver Letwin, one of the architects of the compromise, said it would provide “exactly the same degree of flexibility in UK law” as Article 50 allows the European Union.
“I’m optimistic that we can find a sensible resolution to this particular rather small issue; we are then left with a much bigger question of negotiating a trade deal with the EU, which is a very difficult thing to do,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
There was a “long way to go” before a final deal with Brussels could be agreed, he said.
“Some years back I described this as a game of multi-dimensional chess and I think it is like that because you have got 27 countries on the other side, you have got the Parliament, you have got the Council, you have got the Commission and then you have got all the complexities of politics in the UK.”
Former Cabinet minister Nicky Morgan, one of the rebels who helped inflict Mrs May’s first Commons defeat on Wednesday, gave her support to the compromise over the Brexit date.
She said the new amendment “demonstrates how all Conservative MPs can work together” to deliver the best possible Brexit and reflects the flexibility within the Article 50 withdrawal process.
The amendment also emphasises that “Parliament will be fully involved in Brexit”, she said.
But a senior Leave-supporting Tory said the rebels had now accepted that Government ministers are in control of setting the Brexit date.
“It is very reasonable for the Bill to mirror Article 50 more closely, but they have had to give up scrapping the date altogether and to accept that the Government remains in control of the date,” the MP said.
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