Philip Hammond, the chancellor, and international trade secretary, Liam Fox, have come together to declare that a post-Brexit transition would not be a “back door” to Britain remaining in the EU.
After a summer of cabinet feuding Hammond, who favours a “softer” pro-business Brexit, and Fox, a hardline Brexiter, said that they agreed there should not be “cliff-edge” break when Britain leaves the EU in March 2019.
But in a joint article for the Sunday Telegraph, they 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.
The article was published as a former foreign secretary, David Miliband, issued a call in the Observer for politicians on all sides to fight back against the “worst consequences” of last year’s vote for Britain to leave the EU.
The Labour ex-cabinet minister described the outcome of the 2016 referendum as an “unparalleled act of economic self-harm”.
In the Telegraph, Hammond and Fox 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.
“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.”
Theresa May will hope the intervention of the two ministers will cool temperatures in the Tory ranks amid divisions over Brexit and speculation of a possible leadership challenge when MPs return to Westminster in September.
However Anna Soubrey, a leading Conservative remainer, warned the prime minister that she needed to face down the “hard Brexiteers” in the Conservative ranks if she wanted to hold on to her position in No 10. “Mrs May is making a great mistake if she allows her policy to be dictated by the Brexit ideologues. They effectively brought down John Major, David Cameron and, arguably, Margaret Thatcher – and will not hesitate to do the same to her,” she said in an article for the Mail on Sunday.
The former business minister also indicated that she could be prepared to join politicians from other parties to stop the country “staggering recklessly” towards a hard break with Brussels. “Could I ever see myself joining with like-minded people who want to save our country from such an appalling fate? And has that moment arrived yet?” she wrote.
“The answer to the first question is ‘it is not impossible’; the answer to the second is ‘no’. But I would be betraying my principles if I did not make it clear that country must always come before party.”