Downing Street has rejected calls from some Conservative MPs and the mayor of London to consider extending Brexit talks beyond the new year, saying any trade deal had to be in place and approved before 31 December.
Boris Johnson’s spokesman also dismissed the idea of allowing MPs to ratify a trade deal retrospectively as time was too short, saying the Commons would have a vote on any agreement before it came into force.
With talks between EU and UK negotiators still ongoing and bogged down in disagreements over areas including fishing and common rules and standards, there is little more than a week until the end of the post-Brexit transition deal.
Some Conservative MPs argued on Monday that with the UK still reeling from the coronavirus pandemic and freight already disrupted by a halt imposed by France due to the spread of a fast-transmitting variant of Covid, leaving without a trade deal on 1 January should be avoided.
Tobias Ellwood, the former defence minister, tweeted: “Let Brexit trade talks continue. These are far from ideal conditions to rationally determine our future prosperity and security terms. If there’s no deal by new year let’s do what’s best for the UK and pause the clock.”
Simon Hoare, the North Dorset MP, tweeted that it was “time for maturity”, saying: “There’s no parly time to scrutinise and agree a deal, and daily clarity of the dangers to our already pressured economy of no deal is alarming.”
In a statement, Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, said the idea of leaving the EU without a trade deal “was reckless even before the latest surge in Covid cases”, saying this should not be allowed to happen.
However, the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, declined on Monday to back a possible extension, saying only that he wanted Johnson to deliver a deal this week.
Asked following a speech on devolution if he agreed with the calls, Starmer said: “I don’t want an extension. I want the deal. The prime minister said he had an oven ready deal … I say to the prime minister, ‘Get on and deliver the deal you promised.’”
Speaking after his first major policy speech on the union, in which he pledged to “make devolution a reality” under a Labour government, Starmer added: “It would be far better for the government to get the deal over the line today, tomorrow or some time this week.”
Johnson will face fury from Brexit-minded backbenchers if he does agree any delay. His spokesman said this would not happen, while saying talks with the EU “remain difficult”.
“Our position on the transition period is clear. It will end on 31 December. That remains our position,” he said. “We obviously need to ratify any agreement ahead of 1 January, which means that time is in short supply.”
The spokesman ruled out the idea of retrospective parliamentary approval: “We’ve said before that we will need to ratify any agreement ahead of 1 January. The leader of the house made it clear that we would recall parliament in order to give MPs a vote on the necessary legislation.”