British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will legislate to prevent any extension of the Brexit transition period beyond 2020, British media reported on Tuesday.
Making any extension illegal, a move first reported by ITV, would increase the chances of a no-deal Brexit.
Under his plan, Johnson would need to strike a trade deal with the European Union in just 11 months – something EU leaders and experts have said would be challenging.
“Our manifesto made clear that we will not extend the implementation period and the new Withdrawal Agreement Bill will legally prohibit government agreeing to any extension,” a senior government official said, according to Reuters news agency.
After the United Kingdom leaves the EU on January 31, it enters a transition period in which it remains an EU member in all but name while both sides try to hammer out a new trade relationship.
By enshrining in law his campaign promise not to extend the transition period beyond the end of 2020, Johnson cuts the amount of time he has to strike a trade deal to 11 months from nearly three years.
“Making no-deal even more likely is extremely reckless,” said opposition Labour Party MP David Lammy, writing on Twitter. “Within days, [Boris Johnson] demonstrates how quickly he is prepared to play fast and loose with those who put their faith in him just last week.”
Prem Sikka, a British accounting academic, tweeted: “Boris Johnson laws foundations of a no-deal Brexit. That is something he and his right-wing gang had always intended … hedge funds [are] laying bets on the crash the pound.”
The laws needed to enact Brexit will be put before parliament on Friday, Johnson’s spokesman had said earlier.
While Johnson’s large, 80-seat majority – the Conservatives made a net gain of 47 seats in a December 13 general election – gives him the flexibility to change the law should he need to, he is sending a bold message to the EU.
The bloc’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has warned that 11 months is not enough time to strike a comprehensive trade deal
Sterling dropped as much as 0.7 percent to $1.3236 in Asia after ITV first reported the move.
“We are going to make sure that we get this deal done in time,” Michael Gove, one of the most senior ministers in Johnson’s government, told the BBC.
Johnson and US President Donald Trump said on Monday they looked forward to continued close cooperation and the negotiation of an “ambitious” UK-US free trade agreement.
If the UK and the EU fail to strike a deal on their future relationship and the transition period were not extended, then trade between the two would be on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms – more burdensome for businesses.
The EU insists it will not seal a trade deal with a large, economically powerful neighbour without solid provisions to guarantee fair competition.
The bloc’s demands will focus on environmental and labour standards, as well as state aid rules to ensure Britain would not be able to offer products on the bloc’s single market at unfairly low prices.
With industry supply chains in the EU crossing borders multiple times for products like cars and drugs, agreeing exact rules to designate where products come from – and hence what regulations and taxes apply – will also be fraught.
“It will be very complicated. It’s about an array of relations, in trade, in fishing and cooperation in security and foreign policy,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told an EU summit news conference on Friday.
Later on Tuesday, MPs return to the House of Commons to begin the process of swearing in. On Thursday, the Queen will formally open Parliament, with Johnson laying out what he hopes to achieve in a Queen’s speech. Johnson will on Friday re-introduce his Brexit deal to Parliament.