Hague backs transitional plan to avoid great Brexit 'muddle'

Philip Hammond’s plan for a stable transitional period is the best way to save Brexit from an approaching disaster, William Hague, the former Conservative cabinet minister, has said.

Hague, a Tory peer who served as foreign secretary under David Cameron, said there was “clear potential for Brexit to become the occasion of the greatest economic, diplomatic and constitutional muddle in the modern history of the UK, with unknowable consequences for the country, the government and the Brexit project itself”.

He said Hammond’s plan for a transitional period of up to three years after March 2019 along the lines of an existing “off-the-shelf” model, such as staying in the European Economic Area, was the best way of trying to rescue Brexit.

No 10 on Monday ruled out the idea that Britain would have an “off-the-shelf” model for the transitional period, but this may be a matter of disputing the semantics.

Hammond and others in the cabinet are understood to believe that there is not enough time to negotiate a fully bespoke deal with the EU from the moment the UK departs in March 2019 and therefore the best way of providing certainty for businesses would be to used an existing template. The most obvious model is for Britain to remain part of the EEA alongside non-EU members Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, which pay into the EU budget and abide by certain, but not all, EU rules.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Hague said the “attractions of the chancellor’s plan, which sounds similar to joining the European Economic Area as a transition, are immense”. He said it would make negotiations with the EU much easier, because the task of agreeing a special transitional regime as well as an eventual free trade agreement could be skipped.

Second, he said, the row about money would be partly solved as the UK would keep making EU budget payments in 2020 and 2021. Much of the discord is over those years because they fall in the period for which spending commitments have already been made.

Hague said other benefits of Hammond’s plan would be not needing to set up a whole new customs system in the next 18 months, reducing the volume of new laws needed in the immediate future and businesses would be under much less pressure to make early decisions that would hit jobs and incomes in Britain. He suggested this plan would also be easier to pass through a difficult parliament.

Another advantage of EEA membership is that it is not overseen by the European Court of Justice, which Theresa May has said must not have jurisdiction over the UK. Instead, there is legal oversight by the European Free Trade Association court.

The idea of remaining in the EEA or leaving and rejoining that bloc has been gaining traction among many Tory and Labour advocates of a softer Brexit who are concerned that the UK is heading for a “cliff-edge” departure in March 2019 without having fully negotiated what its future relationship with the EU will look like.

However, supporters of a hard Brexit fear it is too similar to EU membership without the UK having any say in making its rules, and involves accepting some degree of free movement of people.

Steve Baker, the Brexit minister, told the BBC’s World at One last month that it was “like putting blood in the water to even talk about the EEA”.

There are serious cabinet splits about whether free movement should in effect be allowed to continue after March 2019 in some form. Although it will officially end at that point, Hammond and Amber Rudd, the home secretary, have said EU migrants would still be able to come to the UK during the transitional period as long as they register with the authorities.

In contrast, Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, has said there is no cabinet-wide agreement for the suggestion that free movement could continue for up to three years after Brexit. He warned last week that “control of our own borders” was one of the key elements behind the leave vote and that free movement must end in 2019.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Rowena Mason Deputy political editor, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 1st August 2017 13.12 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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