Brexit Secretary David Davis has voiced frustration at the changing position of Cabinet colleagues on Britain’s exit from the European Union – and revealed that a newspaper article written jointly by the Chancellor and the Trade Secretary was not “cleared” with him.
The article by Philip Hammond and Liam Fox, published in the Sunday Telegraph, pledged that the post-Brexit transition period would be “time-limited”. But Mr Davis said the transition could vary between sectors and would be “driven by practicalities” rather than ideology or timing.
The Brexit Secretary was speaking in Edinburgh when he appeared as the first guest at Alex Salmond’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe show yesterday.
The ex-SNP leader alluded to the article in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph in which Mr Hammond and Mr Fox sought to draw a line under months of Cabinet feuding over Brexit.
“They’re venting this united front about what to do about the transition period – is that the sort of thing they clear with you as Brexit Secretary?” Mr Salmond asked.
Mr Davis replied: “Not as I remember, no.” The Brexit Secretary said that he had cautioned against using phrases like “transition” period following the formal departure from the EU because “that means something different to absolutely everyone” involved in the process.
“Including members of the Cabinet?” Mr Salmond interjected.
Mr Davis replied: “Sometimes on different days.”
Asked if the Cabinet was “ fully united” on Brexit, Mr Davis gave a long pause, prompting laughter from the Edinburgh crowd.
“Well we’re all captives – the answer is yes,” he responded to more laughter.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier had initially hinted that the post-Brexit transition period could last up to a decade, Mr Davis also revealed, after the formal “divorce” is finalised in March 2019.
Mr Davis insisted this was “never going to fly” but made it clear the timing of the implementation would be driven by practicalities.
“It will differ with different things,” he insisted.
“Much of this will be driven not by ideology, but by practicalities – when you get the customs system in place, what you do about financial services and so on.
“That’s why the implementation period comes into play with different people in different ways.”
Ministers are prioritising the customs union because this will need reciprocal work in other European countries, but other areas like financial services will need a lengthier period “to make any adjustments”.
Mr Davis added: “It may well vary by sector. What will help the financial sector of Edinburgh? What will make sure it doesn’t take any hits?”
Prime Minister Theresa May will have been hoping the intervention of Mr Hammond and Dr Fox would ease tensions in the Tory ranks amid divisions over Brexit and speculation of a possible leadership challenge when MPs return in September.
Mr Hammond, who favours a “softer” pro-business Brexit, and Dr Fox, a hardline Brexiteer, agreed that any transition would be “time-limited” and that Brexit would mean the UK pulling out of both the EU single market and the customs union.
“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,” they wrote.
“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.”