Thu. 8:21 a.m.: Foreign Secretary: Brexit may have to be delayed

LONDON (AP) — A key member of Prime Minister Theresa May’s government acknowledged today that Britain’s exit from the European Union may have to be delayed if negotiations on a divorce deal drag on.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told the BBC that while it is difficult to know whether negotiations will stretch to the final hours, a delay may be necessary to pass legislation to implement Brexit. His comments gained attention because of fears the country is simply not ready to leave — even though May’s Downing Street office insisted nothing had changed.

“I think it is true that if we ended up approving a deal in the days before 29 March then we might need some extra time to pass critical legislation, but if we are able to make progress sooner then that might not be necessary,” Hunt said.

The comments come as the influential think tank, the Institute for Government, warned the government was not ready should a no-deal Brexit come to pass. The think tank predicted that in a majority of broad policy areas, including health and borders, the government would be unable to avoid “major negative impacts.”

“It is not just the government that needs to be ready – business and citizens need to know how the changes will affect them and what they need to do,” it said in a report.

Britain’s carmakers issued a stark assessment today about Brexit’s impact on the industry, warning that two-thirds of the country’s global trade is at risk if the U.K. leaves the European Union without an agreement on the future.

Investment in the industry fell 46 percent last year and new car production dropped 9.1 percent to 1.52 million vehicles in 2018, in part because of concerns over Brexit, the Society of Motor Manufacturing said. Chief executive Mike Hawes has described the threat of a no-deal as “catastrophic.”

“With fewer than 60 days before we leave the EU and the risk of crashing out without a deal looking increasingly real, UK Automotive is on red alert,” Hawes said. “Brexit uncertainty has already done enormous damage to output, investment and jobs.”

Hawes said the figures showing a drop in investment, stark though they are, pale in comparison to what is ahead should the U.K. leave the EU on March 29 without a deal, severing frictionless trade links overnight with the EU and other global markets. Britain’s Parliament has refused to rule out a no-deal Brexit, voting this week instead to give Prime Minister Theresa May more time to try to iron out a compromise with the EU.

“Brexit is the clear and present danger and, with thousands of jobs on the line, we urge all parties to do whatever it takes to save us from ‘no deal’,” Hawes said.

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