WARRING Cabinet ministers Philip Hammond and Liam Fox have put aside their rift to jointly declare that Britain will need a post-Brexit transition period.
But the pair are both agreed that any deal to help businesses adjust cannot be indefinite – and will not be a “back door” to staying in the EU.
After weeks of feuding, two of the key figures in Theresa May’s top team have penned a joint article outlining the Government’s vision for our EU exit.
The Chancellor Mr Hammond has been attacked by Brexiteers who claim he has been using his potion to push for a so-called “soft Brexit”.
Meanwhile Mr Fox, the International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, is has been pushing for a clean break – and said last month the UK could “survive” without a free trade deal with the EU once we leave.
But in today’s piece for The Sunday Telegraph they agree there should not be a “cliff-edge” in March 2019, and a “time-limited” transition period would “further our national interest and give business greater certainty”.
They write: “We want our economy to remain strong and vibrant through this period of change.
“That means businesses need to have confidence that there will not be a cliff-edge when we leave the EU in just over 20 months’ time.”
The ministers add: “That is why we believe a time-limited interim period will be important to further our national interest and give business greater certainty — but it cannot be indefinite; it cannot be a back door to staying in the EU.
“We are both clear that during this period the UK will be outside the customs union and will be a ‘third country’, not a party to EU treaties.”
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Clearly written as an attempt to show the Cabinet is united ahead of the next round of talks and draw a line under weeks of damaging stories about rifts, it also shows a shift in the rhetoric of Mr Fox.
Mr Hammond claimed last month there was “broad consensus” in the Cabinet about the idea of transitional agreement – which allows much of the exiting arrangements to continue while a comprehensive long-term deal is thrashed out.
One of those would be continued free movement in all but name for several more years – leading Mr Fox to rebuke the Chancellor, saying there was no such accord among ministers for such an idea.
He said: “If there have been discussions on that, I have not been party to them.
“I have not been involved in any discussion on that, nor have I signified my agreement to anything like that.
“We made it clear that control of our own borders was one of the elements we wanted in the referendum, and unregulated free movement would seem to me not to keep faith with that decision.”
But today he agrees with his colleague “that during this period our borders must continue to operate smoothly”, in the clearest sign of what will happen once the Article 50 countdown runs out.
The pair add: “Once the interim period is over, we want a permanent, treaty-based arrangement between the UK and the EU which supports the closest possible relationship with the European Union, retaining close ties of security, trade and commerce.”
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