UK foreign secretary hints at Brexit 'extra time'

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British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt arrives for a cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street in London, Britain, Dec. 18, 2018. [Photo/Xinhua]

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has told the BBC "extra time" may be needed to finalize the legislation around the country's exit from the European Union, known as Brexit, which is scheduled for March 29.

With two months to go, the country has still not managed to agree divorce terms from the other 27 EU member states, and the proposed exit agreement Prime Minister Theresa May managed to hammer out with EU leaders has been heavily rejected by members of Parliament back in London.

May says she wants more talks with European leaders, but the EU has made it clear they have no interest in more talks, saying the deal rejected in Westminster is the best one Britain can get.

Downing Street insists the March 29 deadline remains in place, but previously, the leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom had said that the EU may be willing to give the United Kingdom a "couple of extra weeks".

Now Hunt is the most prominent figure yet to have spoken about the possibility of an extension to Article 50, the process by which the UK will leave.

"It is true that if we ended up approving the deal in the days before March 29, then we might need some extra time to pass critical legislation," he told the Today program.

"But if we are able to make progress sooner, then that might not be necessary. We can't know at this stage exactly which of those scenarios would happen."

The main stumbling block continues to be the Northern Ireland backstop. This is a so-called insurance policy to ensure there is no return to a hard border, with checks on people and goods crossing, where Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, meets the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state. This is the UK's only land frontier with an EU country.

On Tuesday, MPs voted for May to seek further discussions on the backstop, but even before she had announced her intention to do so, the EU had already made it clear that as far as it was concerned, there were no more negotiations to be had over the issue.

Hunt called this situation "challenging" and said the government was "not ruling out any of these potential solutions" to the issue.

Meanwhile, in a bizarre turn of events, the editor of the BBC's Six O'Clock news Paul Royall has blamed "human error" after a script on Wednesday evening's program which referred to May flying to Brussels for talks was accompanied by video footage of Spitfire fighter planes taking off during World War II. Those pictures were part of an unconnected news story about a historic aerodrome.

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