The Telegraph: A short extension to the timetable to deliver Brexit is not impossible

Attempts to postpone the date of departure from the European Union beyond March 29 are little more than ploys to keep the United Kingdom as a member state in spite of the referendum and subsequent Acts of Parliament.

The motion proposed earlier this week by Yvette Cooper, whose constituency voted 69.3 per cent to leave, was backed by those who campaigned to remain and always disliked the result.

What is needed is not further time for negotiations but engagement, and one proposal appears to be able to command widespread support: the so-called “Malthouse compromise”.

I have known Kit Malthouse since the early Nineties, when we discussed Tory matters in the Westminster Conservative Political Centre group along with Stephan Shakespeare of YouGov fame and Syed Kamall, the MEP.

He has always been both an effective operator and a clear political thinker and his intervention to bring together Steve Baker, Nicky Morgan, Robert Buckland, Stephen Hammond and me has yielded fruit.

Some of us have disagreed about the European question for decades, but we were all willing to see if a proposal could be put together that, with compromise and good will, could work both for the country and the Conservative Party.

The national interest must always rank above narrower considerations but it is, none the less, important to have two political parties that are functional and could govern.

How the socialists sort themselves out is not a matter for me to say but, especially with the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, it is essential that the Tories are able to run a government until 2022 and ideally beyond.

This was beginning to look unlikely as it became apparent that failing to leave on March 29 would split off one wing, while being unable to leave with some arrangement would split off the other.

Inevitably, as the date grew closer and the temperature hotter, it was probable that views would become even more entrenched, so, to avoid this, a two-stage compromise was crafted.

The first step is the removal of the current backstop, which divides the nation and could last forever.

This could be replaced with a free-trade agreement, without tariffs or quotas, using the smoothest existing customs facilitation measures to ensure that there is no need for a hard border in Ireland.

It would include routine parts of standard trade agreements to discourage cheating by either side, such as rules of origin, and would permit inland rather than border clearance of goods.

In return for an acceptable backstop, Eurosceptics would agree that the implementation would last for an extra year.

If this were not acceptable, then the alternative would not be “no deal” but a purchased implementation period.

Essentially, our existing contributions until 2021 in return for a standstill, while either a new future relationship could be negotiated or we could agree an extension of tariff-free trading, provided for under World Trade Organisation rules, allowing a further ten years to finalise trading arrangements.

This ought to be palatable in one way or another to the EU as it preserves its red lines around the integrity of the Single Market.

Currently, there are only 55 days left to Brexit. This makes the timetable tight for agreeing and legislating for a deal.

The EU is an expert at deciding matters just before the deadline, as it focuses the mind.

Parliament can also legislate with considerable speed but a law of this kind will need proper scrutiny.

Thus, if the agreement were made but a little parliamentary time were needed, as long as the second reading had taken place a short extension is not impossible.

Equally, to delay for the purpose of vacuous discussions would be solely to thwart Brexit. It must not be for that purpose and should be opposed if negotiations are incomplete.

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