Theresa May strips Brexit chief of Brexit talks and extends EU law for 21 months
Theresa May today stripped the Brexit Department of its job being in charge of Brexit talks – as she announced the UK will stay under EU laws for 21 more months.
The double move by the Prime Minister risks enraging Tory MPs as it keeps Britain close to the EU – and means someone who voted Remain is negotiating Brexit.
Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab voted Leave and was appointed to the job two weeks ago. But confirming what many thought in Westminster, Mrs May has announced she’ll lead talks with Brussels herself, and Mr Raab will be her deputy.
The Cabinet Office Europe Unit – not the Brexit Department – will take charge of talks and support both politicians.
Mrs May said: "The Department for Exiting the EU will continue to lead on all of the Government’s preparations for Brexit: domestic preparations in both a deal and a no deal scenario, all of the necessary legislation, and preparations for the negotiations to implement the detail of the Future Framework."
The statement was revealed as Mr Raab was being questioned by MPs. In the ultimate humiliation, a Sky News phone app alert, which appears to have been broadcasting the news, briefly interrupted his hearing before the Brexit Committee.
Jenny Chapman, Labour’s Shadow Brexit Minister, said: “Dominic Raab has been sidelined by the Prime Minister before he has even had the chance to get his feet under the table.”
The Tory Cabinet minister insisted the power grab was simply a “shifting of Whitehall deck chairs” adding: "There’s no tension between us, I think that’s clear".
Olly Robbins, the top civil servant leading Brexit talks, insisted he “doubted” Mrs May would be meeting the EU’s negotiator Michel Barnier herself.
"The key interlocutor for Mr Barnier is the Secretary of State,” he said.
It came as Mrs May revealed she will formally extend EU laws to the end of 2020.
The European Communities Act – which Mrs May claimed would be repealed on 29 March 2019 – will now apply until the December 31 2020 under plans unveiled today.
MPs already knew EU laws would continue until December 2020 under a ‘transition period’.
But now Mrs May is having to amend her own Brexit Bill, passed just weeks ago, to "save the effect" of the Communities Act.
The formal extension was revealed in a white paper on the next big Brexit law, the Withdrawal and Implementation Bill.
Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab described the white paper as "another key milestone in the UK’s path to leaving the EU".
And he insisted Britain could still refuse to pay its £39 billion "divorce bill" if the EU fails to reach agreement on its future trade relationship with the UK.
"If one party fails to honour its side of that overall bargain, there will be consequences for the deal as a whole – and that includes the financial settlement," the Brexit Secretary said.
But MPs raised concerns over the fact they will be voting on Britain’s withdrawal, including the divorce bill, before all details of the deal are known.
Meanwhile, Mr Raab was forced to insist the government will ensure "adequate food supplies" after Brexit.
He refused to say if the government was stockpiling food in the event of ‘no deal’, saying only: "We will set this out in the technical notices… It would be wrong to describe it as the government doing the stockpiling."
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Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said he could not remember legislation that has needed as much revision before coming into force.
Sir Keir said: "Just a few weeks ago many Brexiteers cheered section 6(1) of the Withdrawal Act extinguishing the role of the European Court on the fixed day of the 29th March 2019 – and not so fast.
"As we pointed out at the time, paragraph 80 of this white paper preserves the full role of the European Court until December 2020 and again the Withdrawal Act will need major surgery."
He added: "I can’t remember legislation which has needed such great revision and amendment before the relevant parts have even come into force."
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