Hammond says Brexit deal referendum ‘credible’ as delay bill passes by one vote
Chancellor Philip Hammond indicated the Tories may give ground on customs arrangements.
The UK faces a potentially lengthy delay to Brexit, Philip Hammond said as he indicated the Tories could be prepared to compromise on a customs union.
The Chancellor, who also said a referendum on any Brexit deal was a “perfectly credible” proposal, said fulfilling the promise of leaving the European Union was the Government’s central commitment and other pledges made were “somewhat secondary” to that.
Meanwhile, backbench legislation forcing Theresa May to delay Brexit rather than risk a no-deal break from Brussels cleared the Commons by a majority of just one in a knife-edge Commons vote.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the Bill made the chances of the UK crashing out “very unlikely”, as he suggested he could accept a customs union compromise.
“I would much prefer the Prime Minister’s deal to a customs union, to be frank,” Mr Hancock told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“I want to deliver Brexit. I have spoken about the problems of a customs union and I don’t think it’s as good for the country. But I also want to deliver Brexit.”
The Chancellor's comments regarding a second referendum seem to indicate the beginning of another u-turn from a Government which promised us that we would leave on the 29th March, no deal was better than a bad deal and that they would never agree to a border in the Irish Sea.— Sammy Wilson MP (@eastantrimmp) April 4, 2019
The health secretary's comments followed the opening round of talks between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn aimed at finding a possible Brexit compromise which the Labour leader described as “useful but inconclusive”.
The meeting sparked fury among some Conservatives, with two ministers quitting Mrs May’s Government and a string of backbenchers directly challenging Mrs May during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons.
Mr Hammond’s comments are likely to further enrage Brexiteers on the Tory benches.
In an interview with ITV’s Peston, he said he was expecting Brussels to insist on a lengthy delay to Brexit but stressed that the Government wanted to ensure that any extension to the Article 50 process could be cut short if a deal was agreed by MPs.
He said the Government wanted “absolute clarity that as soon as we have done the deal we are able to bring that extension to an end”.
Signalling that compromise would be required from both sides in the talks with Labour, Mr Hammond was asked whether a customs union was a price worth paying for a deal.
“If that’s what we have to do then let’s look at that,” he said.
Mr Hammond said that “some kind of customs arrangement is clearly going to be part of the future structure”.
“When you enter into a negotiation like this to find a compromise way forward, both parties have to give something up.
“There is going to be pain on both sides.”
On the prospect of another referendum, Mr Hammond said a “confirmatory” vote on any Brexit deal was a “perfectly credible proposition”, unlike some of the other ideas circulating at Westminster which were “not deliverable”.
However Mr Hancock said he was “very, very strongly against” a second referendum.