Theresa May’s Former Deputy Claims Brexit Transition Delay ‘Inevitable’

Pro-European Union, (EU), anti-Brexit demonstrators wear masks featuring the EU flag outside the Houses of Parliament in central London on December 18, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images

David Lidington, the former de-facto deputy prime minister to Theresa May, claimed that an extension to the Brexit transition period was “inevitable” because of coronavirus.

The former Conservative MP, a staunch Remainer who served as David Cameron’s Europe minister, told Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad: “COVID-19 makes renewal inevitable. There is not enough bandwidth to pay attention to Brexit at Whitehall, the European Commission, and the major capitals.”

Later a right-hand man to May, Lidington nevertheless reportedly planned and failed to launch a coup against the former prime minister in March 2019, with either he or Brexiteer minister Michael Gove touted as caretaker prime minister. Both later publicly denied the plot. In December 2018, Lidington was also allegedly talking to members of the Opposition to form a cross-party “coalition of the willing” to force a second Brexit referendum.

The interview with the Dutch newspaper, published on Sunday, provoked a backlash from serving Tory MPs this week. Brexiteer Mark Francois, chairman of the Eurosceptic European Research Group (ERG), told Sky News on Wednesday that Mr Lidington’s suggestion would be “extremely costly to the British taxpayer”.

“I am confident we will have a free trade agreement by year-end, so no extension is necessary,” Mr Francois added.

Ben Bradley said: “We need to be firm and deliver what we promised.” While Andrew Rosindell said it was “the worst possible idea that at this stage we delay the end of the transition period”. An unnamed Brexiteer MP remarked: “Not now, David. We’re a bit busy.”

The first round of trade talks between London and Brussels began on Monday after both parties agreed to conduct negotiations remotely due to the lockdown measures of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Liddington’s suggestion that leaving the EU’s institutions during the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic would be a bad idea has been countered by recent reports of sources close to UK-EU negotiations. A source told The Times that several European countries recognise that extending the transition period did not make economic sense and that the UK leaving the Single Market and Customs Union without a deal would make little difference.

The diplomatic source had said: “Any disruption to trade if a deal is not negotiated by the end of the year will be buried… Negative effects of the exit from the single market are now cushioned in the wider context of the corona crisis.”

“The single market is basically suspended now anyway. So it’s probably the best situation they could hope for to get this done. Why not take the hit now and bank on any unilateral EU or bilateral national measures to alleviate the worst effects? And then trust that a modern service economy will come out of the crisis quicker than the more traditional economies of the eurozone,” they added.

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage has warned that if the UK delays exit beyond December 31st, 2020, then the country could be responsible for massive financial liabilities to the EU and perhaps even be pulled into an impending Eurozone financial crisis.

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