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LONDON -- Britain should seek to postpone its exit from the European Union if talks drag on during the next few months, an influential committee of lawmakers concluded Sunday.

The panel's recommendation split its members, some of whom disowned the document, and illustrated the growing concerns in Parliament over the pace of the negotiations.

The report came before a summit meeting this week at which EU leaders are expected to agree, in principle, on a standstill transition period of slightly less than two years to prevent Britain's economy from suffering the effects of a "cliff edge" departure from the bloc next March, when it is formally scheduled to quit.

But even that transition would be conditional on the success of broader discussions on the withdrawal. The talks are due to end in the fall, but that deadline looks difficult to meet, particularly because of the complexity of avoiding the introduction of a hard border in Ireland.

The House of Commons Select Committee on Exiting the European Union concluded that if "substantial aspects" of the overall agreement were still left to be finalized in October, the British government should seek "a limited extension" of the time set out under Article 50. That is a section of the treaty invoked last year by Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain setting a two-year deadline for withdrawal from the bloc.

The report, endorsed by a majority of the committee's members, also argued for the flexibility to extend the transition period, if necessary, to prepare for the economic upheaval of Britain's final departure.

But a group of lawmakers on the committee who are strong proponents of Britain's withdrawal from the EU disowned the document. One, Jacob Rees-Mogg, wrote on Twitter that it "merely seeks to stop Brexit."

Chaired by Hilary Benn, a former Cabinet minister for Labor, the committee noted that time was extremely short to resolve the web of complex issues that remain outstanding. They include the need to avoid introducing a hard border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, and Ireland, which will remain in the EU.

"We are now at a critical stage in the negotiations, with just seven months left to reach agreement on a whole host of highly complex issues," Benn said in a statement. It said the government "faces a huge task" in negotiating an agreement on future ties.

"In the short time that remains, it is difficult to see how it will be possible to negotiate a full, bespoke trade and market access agreement, along with a range of other agreements, including on foreign affairs and defense cooperation," the document said.

It also said that the British Parliament would need "absolute clarity" on future ties, including arrangements for the border with Ireland.

The committee report laid bare the problems May faces in Parliament, while underscoring the continuing bitter divisions over the departure in British politics.

May is walking a political tightrope on the issue. She needs to keep on board those in her Cabinet and her Conservative Party who want a clean break with the bloc, like the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, and Rees-Mogg.

Any deal she strikes, however, has to get through Parliament, where the prime minister has no majority and many critics, and where she relies on 10 lawmakers from Northern Ireland. Unlike May, the opposition Labor Party wants to keep a customs union with the EU and hopes to defeat the government in Parliament over the issue.

Johnson, who campaigned to leave the bloc in the 2016 referendum, said Sunday that proposals to delay Britain's departure are not necessary.

"We're making great progress," he said, "on money, on borders and laws you're seeing a fulfillment of the pledge to take back control.

"What most people want us to do, whether they voted leave or remain, is to get on with it," he said.

Johnson also said it's "claptrap" to say the European Court of Justice will continue to have some influence over the U.K. after it leaves the EU, contradicting May.

May said in a March 2 speech that it is a "hard fact" that "even after we have left the jurisdiction of the [European Court of Justice], EU law and the decisions of the [European Court of Justice] will continue to affect us." The prime minister also said Britain will make "an appropriate financial contribution" into the EU to remain part of some of it agencies, an assertion that Johnson also dismissed.

"We're not going to have the influence of the European Court of Justice, that's just BBC claptrap, we're not going to be paying in after we come out," Johnson said on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show on Sunday. "Yes there will be an implementation period, but after we come out we'll have what is effectively a gigantic free-trade deal with all sorts of bolt-ons, and the advantage of the new arrangements is that it will be possible for either side to do things differently, to do things in their own way."

Information for this article was contributed by Stephen Castle of The New York Times; and by Thomas Penny of Bloomberg News.

A Section on 03/19/2018

Print Headline: Consider postponing EU exit, panel advises U.K.

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