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What Brexit may look like after 2019: UK finance minister's view


United Kingdom

What Brexit may look like after 2019: UK finance minister's view

The United Kingdom’s Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) has said that in the immediate aftermath of the country’s departure from the European Union, “many things will look similar” in the interests of stability.

Philip Hammond, a former foreign minister who voted for the UK to remain in the EU in last year’s referendum and is accused by Eurosceptics of trying to “derail” Brexit, has given more details of the government’s wish to negotiate a transitional deal with Brussels covering the period between Britain’s exit and the time when a new trade accord comes into effect.

He told BBC Radio’s Today programme that the UK would leave both the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union when the country left the bloc in March 2019. “The question is, what happens next,” he said.

Amid much scrutiny over the UK’s future immigration policy, he said “it will be some time before we are able to introduce full migration controls between the UK and the European Union,” adding that it would take a while to deliver new infrastructure, people and IT systems.

The chancellor said that how long a transition period lasted would depend on Brexit negotiations with the EU and practical considerations, but there was a “consensus” that the process must be completed by the scheduled date of the next UK general election in June 2022. He did not deny that current arrangements might remain exactly the same, saying that “quite possibly” some things might change.

Hammond denied that ministers were sending out mixed messages on immigration. The previous day, the Home Office Minister Brandon Lewis said that free movement of EU nationals would end in March 2019 when Britain left the bloc. Meanwhile his boss, the Home Secretary Amber Rudd, put the stress on the need for reassurance that there would be no “cliff edge”. The government envisages EU nationals having to register with the UK authorities during a transition period.

Seen as pro-business and being in favour of putting the interests of the economy over a clean break from EU institutions, the chancellor has said that people did not vote to leave the EU to become poorer.

“They do not want to find massive disruption, a ‘cliff-edge’ effect the next day,” he told the BBC. “What people in this country want to know is that the day after leaving the EU they are able to go about their business. They will want to know that when they go to the supermarket, French and Spanish produce will be on the shelves in the normal way. They will want to know that if they want to travel to Europe or go on holiday, they’ll be able to go the airport, get on a plane and fly to their destination. The government’s job is to make sure that our economy can go on functioning normally,” Hammond said.

Dissent within the cabinet over the timing and nature of a post-Brexit transition has been widely reported but the chancellor insisted there was “widespread understanding” that the change to a “new normal” with the EU would take some time.

On the controversial question of European Court of Justice jurisdiction, Hammond said various models were possible including a “special tribunal”, citing arrangements such as those in the European Economic Area (EEA).

The Financial Times has reported that Hammond is seeking a simple “off-the-shelf” transition deal with Brussels, followed by a further “implementation phase” while a new agreement specific to the UK is put in place. Philip Hammond did not confirm or deny the report, saying he thought it was based on a “private meeting” with business leaders.

Following the chancellor’s comments, the pound steadied close to its highest levels in 10 months against the dollar, the markets seeing reassurance that the UK was looking to avoid a “hard Brexit”. However at least one strategist pointed out that the EU would have to agree to such a transition deal.

But on social media there was much hostile Eurosceptic reaction to Hammond’s intervention, while the pro-Brexit Daily Express said his desired deal “would see the UK stripped of influence in Brussels – but forced to accept free market rules, continued budget contributions and meddling from the European Courts”.