Leader comment: Ignore hardliners to secure best possible Brexit

Theresa May has been forced to clarify her customs union stance (Picture: AFP/Getty)
Theresa May has been forced to clarify her customs union stance (Picture: AFP/Getty)
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Hardline Brexiteers’ complaints about the transition period should be ignored to ensure the best possible – or least worst – departure from the EU for the UK.

Even hardline Brexiteers must surely agree it is sensible to have a transition period to allow the UK to adjust to its new position outside the European Union.

It is a pragmatic arrangement that Theresa May’s Government has sensibly asked for and which the EU is, generously, offering to grant. It should help the UK perform a successful Brexit or, more realistically, one that causes the least damage.

But some Brexiteers appear to be intent on throwing a spanner in the works with their insistence that EU citizens who arrive in the UK during the transition should lose some of their current rights. The reasons for this are unclear. It could be a desire to achieve full-Brexit as soon as possible, fired by romantic notions of British greatness and our inevitable success outside the EU, or maybe just a kneejerk reaction to the mention of migrants.

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In her precarious position as Prime Minister of a minority government and leader of a divided party, Ms May doubtless feels she has to throw the hardliners a bone occasionally, hence her remarks that she was “clear” that there was “a difference between those people who came prior to us leaving and those who will come when they know the UK is no longer a member of the EU”. By saying this, she is picking a fight with the EU, as Guy Verhofstadt MEP, the European Parliament’s co-ordinator for Brexit, explained. “Citizens’ rights during the transition are not negotiable. We will not accept that there are two sets of rights for EU citizens. For the transition to work, it must mean a continuation of the existing acquis [EU rights] with no exceptions,” he tweeted.

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The dwindling numbers of people coming to Britain from the EU are not going to make or break Brexit or Britain. In fact, the more we can encourage to come and stay, the better it will be for the NHS, nursing homes, farmers and the myriad of businesses that have come to depend upon them. Of all the arguments made in favour of Brexit, the suggestion that migrants were to blame for the country’s woes – rather than a boon to the economy and our society – was perhaps the most mendacious, beyond even claims about £350 million a week for the NHS.

In choosing a fight over less than two years of migration from the EU, the UK Government risks losing this vital transition period which would plunge the country into chaos. Such jingoistic nit-picking is pointless, irresponsible and dangerous.