Britain has until March 2019 to hammer out its terms of exit from the European Union. That doesn’t mean it will necessarily be out from that point, as the cabinet has warmed to the idea – put forward by Philip Hammond – of Britain adapting to its new future outside of the bloc over a two year transition period. Liam Fox has made clear that he could support such a plan, although a “senior” cabinet source told the Guardian that the transition could last for as long as four years. Other cabinet Leavers have taken this in good heart, with Michael Gove declaring today that ministers are united on the need for a Brexit transition.
Unanimity may prevail in cabinet, but Eurosceptics outside of government aren’t so enthusiastic about a transition period as they feel it would delay the time Britain can break away from European judges and free movement rules. Nigel Farage expressed his fury on Twitter, while Tory MP Peter Bone told my colleague Laura Hughes that it would not be “acceptable to the British people” for free movement to continue past “the Brexit cut-off date”. Tom Harris, who ran Vote Leave’s Scottish campaign during the referendum, urges Brexiteers to embrace the prospect of a transition period so they can get on with exposing the holes in Labour’s thinking. “After more than four decades of subservience to an organisation they loathed, is the prospect of another couple of years really so dreadful, especially if a definite end date for such an arrangement were put in place?” he asks. As passionate MPs may get about what is an acceptable transition period, what matters most is what British negotiators can agree with their European counterparts.
Anti-Brexit forces are building in the meantime, with new Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable dropping his prior opposition to the idea of a second referendum on Britain’s departure. But that doesn’t mean the Government has nothing to boast about. Fraser Nelson points out that America will start looking at a free-trade deal with Britain on Monday, and that Brazil, Australia and Turkey are keen to follow, but the Government is doing little to stop its critics from painting Brexit as doomed. “There are two Brexit battles being fought: that of the spin, and that of the substance,” he concludes in today’s paper. “The Government is losing the former, but slowly winning the latter. Better that, at least, than the other way around.”
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