Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond said transitional arrangements for Britain leaving the European Union are likely to last a couple of years, rather than the couple of months suggested by his cabinet colleague, Trade Secretary Liam Fox.
“It depends how long we need to put in place new customs systems, new migration systems; these things can’t be magicked up overnight,” Hammond said on BBC Television’s “Andrew Marr Show” on Sunday. “We’re not going to be talking a couple of months, we are going to be talking a couple of years.”
Hammond is a leading advocate in UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet for a so-called soft Brexit, in contrast to campaigners for a clean break such as Fox. Britain has until March 2019 to negotiate its divorce from the EU. The trade secretary said in a Bloomberg TV interview on Thursday he would be “very happy” with a transition period of just “a few months.”
Hammond’s comments underscore the continued splits over Brexit and other policies in May’s government, which has been weakened since it lost its majority in June’s general election. A Sunday Times newspaper story on the divisions was illustrated by an image of Hammond and two leading Brexit advocates—Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Brexit Secretary David Davis—aiming pistols at each other.
Even so, Hammond said ministers are “coming much closer together on issues like transition,” ahead of the next round of talks with the EU starting on Monday in Brussels.
“I think you’ll find the cabinet rallying around a position that maximizes our negotiating leverage and gets the best possible decision,” he said on the BBC. “We’ve got to do this in a way that meets the concerns and requirements of both people who want a softer version of Brexit and those who campaigned hard to leave the European Union.”
Speaking on BBC TV’s “Sunday Politics” show, Fox sought to play down differences with the chancellor. “As long as we leave in March 2019, then I’m happy, as long as we’ve got a very time-limited transitional period to make it work for business,” he said, though he declined to discuss the length of time. Britain must be able to negotiate new trade deals as part of the transition, Fox said.
The trade secretary denied he was among those seeking to undercut Hammond. He said his views and the chancellor’s on transitional arrangements are very similar. “I absolutely deplore leaks from the cabinet,” Fox said, also rejecting calls for May to be replaced.