Philip Hammond has given the clearest indication yet that the UK will not make a sudden exit from the EU in 2019.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme while the Prime Minister is on holiday, the Chancellor said “literally nobody” wanted a post-Brexit migration “cliff-edge” because “at the present time we have a high level of dependence on foreign workers in the UK”.
Any “transitional deal” must end by the time of the next general election in 2022, he added, and the UK would quit the single market and customs union in 2019.
His comments led The Sun to say Hammond had “seized on the absence of Theresa May” to “push his agenda for a long transition after Brexit”, while the Daily Mirror says his plan “would see us continue to pay into the Brussels budget for another three years and be subject to the European Court of Justice during that time”.
Hammond’s push follows a gentler tone on immigration outlined by Amber Rudd. According to the Financial Times, it “signals growing confidence among backers of a ‘soft Brexit’ that they are gaining the upper hand over hardliners”.
The Chancellor also admitted it would be impossible to control migration for several years.
On the subject of a transition deal, the EU has said that the only model of single market access it would accept would see Britain stripped of voting rights and influence in Brussels but obliged to accept European Court rulings, free movement rules and budget contributions.
In what the FT describes as “a dramatic shift in cabinet thinking on the issue”, Eurosceptic ministers including Michael Gove and Liam Fox have indicated they are prepared to accept such conditions for a time-limited period in the interests of a business-friendly exit.