Brexit date could be pushed back by a 'couple of extra weeks': Leadsom

By Costas Pitas
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Demonstrators hold EU and Union flags during an anti-Brexit protest opposite the Houses of Parliament in London

FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators hold EU and Union flags during an anti-Brexit protest opposite the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, December 17, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville

By Costas Pitas

LONDON (Reuters) - The date Britain leaves the EU could be pushed back by a couple of weeks to give time for legislation to be approved by lawmakers, the leader of Britain's lower house of parliament said, the most senior figure to make such a suggestion.

Britain, the world's fifth largest economy, is due to leave the European Union on March 29 but Prime Minister Theresa May's negotiated exit deal was rejected by lawmakers, leaving open the possibility of a disorderly Brexit.

Parliament will now vote on a series of amendments on Tuesday with the United Kingdom facing its deepest political crisis in half a century as it grapples with how, or even whether, to exit the European project it joined in 1973.

"We can get the legislation through and I think we do, in spite of everything, have a very strong relationship with our EU friends and neighbors and I am absolutely certain that if we needed a couple of extra weeks or something then that would be feasible," Andrea Leadsom told the BBC.

Responding to the idea that this would mean extending the two-year Article 50 negotiation period, Leadsom, who is the organizer of government business in the lower house of parliament, told the BBC:

"It doesn't necessarily mean that. I think we would want to think carefully about it. But as things stand I do feel that we can get, with the support of both Houses - the House of Commons and the House of Lords - with goodwill and a determination we can still get the legislation through in good time."

A spokeswoman at May's No. 10 Downing Street office said the government's position had not changed.

"We are not considering an extension to article 50 and are committed to doing whatever it takes to have the statute books ready for when we leave the EU on March 29th this year."

But Brexit continues to divide Britain's ruling Conservatives.

Leadsom told The Sunday Times that "taking no deal off the table has been used as a thinly veiled attempt to stop Brexit." However, junior defense minister Tobias Ellwood said a no-deal outcome must be ruled out.

"It is wrong for government and business to invest any more time and money in a no-deal outcome which will make us poorer, weaker and smaller in the eyes of the world," he was quoted as saying.

(Reporting by Costas Pitas; editing by Guy Faulconbridge, Kirsten Donovan and Sandra Maler)