Theresa May’s ministers are bracing for a delay to Brexit – if the UK leaves the EU with a deal or even without a deal – in an admission there might not be enough time to get necessary legislation through.
A senior government source told Sky News both options could require delaying Brexit day beyond 29 March because of the weight of legislation that needs to pass through the House of Commons to facilitate either option.
If the prime minister does eventually manage to pass her Brexit deal with the EU, she would then need to get a Withdrawal Agreement Bill through the House of Commons against the backdrop of a very tight timetable.
“I personally think we should sit all the hours we have got to get it sorted by 29 March,” said the source, as they raised the prospect of MPs working longer hours.
“But we could ask for more time, which is likely to be agreed by the EU.”
But the real difficulties would come in the event of a “no-deal” Brexit, with the source pointing out that six bills would need to pass before 29 March.
This includes the immigration bill to sort out EU citizens’ rights, the agriculture bill and the trade bill.
“It’s a car crash, isn’t it?,” said the source.
“The government would have to try pass [bills] in some form by 29 March or find another way to do necessary legislation – the risk is then not having a clear legal basis to take necessary actions.”
The prime minister’s spokesperson said on Wednesday there was “only one bill which is no-deal specific – relating to financial regulation”, adding “the government hadn’t specified which elements of other [bills] might be pertinent to no-deal legislation”.
Mrs May has consistently refused to rule out a no-deal Brexit, despite pressure from the Labour Party and many of her own ministers to do so.
She has also refused to put extending the Article 50 period on the table, as the prime minister goes full steam ahead in trying to get her own deal across the line despite the 230-vote defeat in the House of Commons last week.
However, the matter could be taken out of her hands next week as MPs attempt to take a no-deal Brexit off the table.
Former Labour minister Yvette Cooper has teamed up with senior Tories, including former cabinet minister Sir Oliver Letwin and Nick Boles, to put forward a cross-party amendment would force the prime minister to delay Brexit if she has not secured Commons approval for her deal by the end of February.
Mrs May is instructing her ministers to vote against the amendment, despite opposition from some senior cabinet figures such as Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd, who has called on the prime minister to allow a free vote on the issue.
Ms Rudd warned Gavin Barwell, Number 10’s chief of staff, that up to 40 ministers could resign from government next week if they are forced to vote against the amendment.
(c) Sky News 2019: Ministers brace for Brexit delay – with or without an exit agreement