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MPs suggest Britain should consider delay in leaving EU

(AFP)Britain should consider postponing its official departure from the European Union because many key negotiating issues still remain unresolved a year before the UK will leave the bloc, a key committee of British lawmakers has suggested.

The House of Commons Exiting the EU Committee said on Sunday that if the government fails to resolve major aspects of the future relationship with the EU by October, Britain should opt for a “limited extension” of its EU membership.

Britain and the EU are negotiating to strike a deal on future relations by the fall so national parliaments can approve it before Britain officially leaves the bloc on March 29, 2019, almost three years after the referendum vote for Brexit.

“If substantial aspects of the future partnership remain to be agreed in October 2018, the government should seek a limited extension to the Article 50 time,” said the committee, whose members mainly supported staying in the EU during the 2016 referendum.

Hilary Benn, who chairs the committee, said negotiations with the EU were now at “a critical stage… with just seven months left to reach agreement on a whole host of highly complex issues.”

The two sides have agreed in principle that the UK will continue to remain part of the EU’s structures and rules until the end of 2020.

The lawmakers expressed concern that there has been “little progress” in solving the key issue of how to maintain an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit.

An opposition Labour MP urged the government to come up with “credible, detailed proposals” as to how it can operate a “frictionless border.”

The pro-Brexit dissenters filed an alternative document, accusing the EU of taking an unhelpful approach to the border issue.

The minority group suggested that Britain should be prepared to walk away without a deal if negotiations collapse.

European officials stress any transition agreement on Britain’s exit is contingent upon finding a solution to the Irish border as part of a wider Brexit deal with the EU.

Northern Ireland will be the only part of the UK to share a land border with an EU member state after the UK leaves the bloc.

London wants to withdraw from the EU customs union — within which goods can move freely — but has said it will not re-impose border posts, which many say might upset the last 20 years of peace in Northern Ireland.

Other issues to be resolved include the status of EU citizens arriving in the UK during a transition period.

Britain seeks to be part of the bloc’s single market for two years after officially leaving in exchange for following EU regulations.

The committee warned that giving citizens arriving in Britain after the withdrawal different rights from those arriving before it may be “inconsistent” with EU law.

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