Cabinet ministers on opposite sides of the Brexit debate launched a show of unity
Philip Hammond and Liam Fox used a joint statement to vow that a transition period to smooth the way after Britain formally leaves the European Union will be time-limited and not a “back door” to staying in the bloc.
They also insisted that Britain will leave the single market and customs union in 2019 when it formally leaves the EU.
Chancellor Mr Hammond has been accused of trying to thwart the referendum result by arguing for a long transition during which Britain could stay in the single market.
International Trade Secretary Dr Fox is a leading pro-Brexit figure and reportedly one of several ministers at odds with Mr Hammond’s approach.
The statement of the two men – which sources said Downing Street saw in advance but did not orchestrate – appears to be a bid to calm the waters after a summer of feuding and to present a stronger government face both to the country and to the EU.
It comes as Theresa May –preparing to return to work later this week after a three-week walking holiday – resolved to get her government focused on moving the Brexit talks forward.
Chancellor Mr Hammond has been accused of trying to thwart the referendum result
Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage tweeted about the statement: “Nothing new here. No mention of time, cost or immigration. Just about party unity and not the country as usual.
We want our economy to remain strong and vibrant through this period of change
“We voted to leave the EU, not for a transition period after two years of talks. Government weak.”
Mr Hammond and Dr Fox yesterday promised that any transition period must be limited.
They said: “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.
“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.
International Trade Secretary Dr Fox is a leading pro-Brexit figure
“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.”
They said borders would have to continue operating smoothly during transition.
They added: “We want a permanent, treaty-based arrangement between the UK and the EU which supports the closest possible relationship with the EU, retaining close ties of security, trade and commerce.”
As talks progressed in Brussels, they insisted, “everyone in government, no matter where they started out on this journey, is working towards the same goal: a smooth and effective exit from the EU which minimises disruption to business and citizens; which protects British jobs and British workers’ standard of living”.
They called for a “laser-like focus” on seizing this unprecedented opportunity to reshape Britain’s destiny.
Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage said: ‘We voted to leave the EU, not for a transition period’
With Mrs May soon back at her desk, the Government is launching a drive to push Brexit talks ahead with detailed policy papers showing the UK was ready to move to the next stage.
They also insist the EU’s priority issues including our exit payment are so “inextricably linked” with what the UK’s future relationship with Europe will be that they cannot be settled first.
Brexit Secretary David Davis, who holds his next talks with EU negotiator Michel Barnier later this month, said: “With time of the essence, we need to get on with negotiating the bigger issues around our future partnership to ensure we get a deal that delivers a strong UK and a strong EU.”