Belfast Telegraph

Cabinet position on Brexit very clear insists minister amid transition 'feuding'

A Leave-supporting Cabinet minister has insisted the Government's Brexit position is "very clear" after company bosses urged Tories to end their apparent feuding over potential transitional arrangements.

Priti Patel said the Cabinet has a "clear position" which includes an end to the free movement of labour when the UK leaves the European Union, expected in 2019.

But it comes amid apparent splits over the terms of any transition arrangement to provide a bridge between the withdrawal date and the agreement of a new trade deal with the EU.

Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd back an interim deal which suggests free movement could continue in all but name for up to three years, albeit with an added registration scheme.

But Leave-supporting International Trade Secretary Liam Fox intervened last weekend to insist unregulated immigration would not "keep faith" with the EU referendum result.

Downing Street has insisted free movement of EU citizens will end in March 2019, the expected withdrawal date.

Ms Patel spoke after the Institute of Directors (IoD) urged the Government to come to a collective agreement on transitional arrangements as soon as possible to avoid a "cliff-edge" Brexit.

The International Development Secretary told Sky News: "There's a very clear position and that position has been outlined by the Prime Minister in her Article 50 letter but also through the negotiations being led by David Davis.

"You know, come March 2019, the United Kingdom will be leaving the European Union.

"With that, that means we'll be taking back control of our borders and our immigration policy, which means an end to free movement.

"And our position is very clear on that, along with the fact that we are all working together as a Government to secure the best deal for Britain so that we can prosper as a nation."

Ms Patel also rejected suggestions that Brexit-backing MPs like herself were not having their voices heard following a disastrous general election for the Tories in which the party lost its House of Commons majority.

"Of course that is not the case because the negotiations are just taking place," she said.

"And just to remind people, in terms of the Cabinet composition, there are plenty of Brexiteers there that were at the forefront of the referendum campaign and we have one of them as well leading the negotiations in Brussels right now.

"The point is this isn't about which side of the argument you are on, this is about delivering the best deal for our country."

The IoD set out a range of transitional options including membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) and extending the Article 50 negotiating timetable, which will currently see Britain quit the European Union by the end of March 2019.

It said prioritising an agreement to extend Brexit talks under Article 50 would be "on paper the simplest solution", giving more time to negotiate a trading relationship.

But it acknowledged that that option would be "very politically challenging" for both the EU and some Brexit-backing MPs.

Staying in the EEA and therefore single market during a transition period, an "off-the-shelf" model being touted in some quarters, would give the UK a degree of autonomy but is "not straightforward" and the IoD warned that the tight timetable could complicate negotiations.

Another option would be to prolong the application of EU law, as cited by the European Council in its original negotiating guidelines, which would be easier to put in place in time, and would be more comprehensive, but would leave the UK with less control than the EEA approach.

A transitional customs agreement could also accompany any of these options to replicate the benefits of being in the customs union, including maintaining common external tariff alignment and continuations to transpose customs and VAT legislation.

A Government spokeswoman said: "We have been clear that we believe an implementation period is in the interests of both the UK and the EU, providing certainty to businesses and citizens, and ensuring we avoid any cliff-edge as we move to our future partnership."

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