Britain will not remain in EU via 'back door'

Two key figures in Britain's cabinet have agreed that there should not be a "cliff-edge" when Britain leaves in March 2019.
Two key figures in Britain's cabinet have agreed that there should not be a "cliff-edge" when Britain leaves in March 2019. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - After weeks of feuding, two key figures in Britain's cabinet came together Sunday (Aug 13) to say any post-Brexit transition would not be a "back door" to continued European Union membership.

Finance minister Philip Hammond, who favours a softer, pro-business Brexit, and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, a hardline supporter of Britain leaving the EU, have clashed over the UK's future outside the bloc.

But in a joint article for The Sunday Telegraph newspaper, they agreed there should not be a "cliff-edge" when Britain leaves in March 2019.

They said any transition period would be "time-limited" and that Brexit would mean Britain pulling out of both the European single market and the customs union.

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"We want our economy to remain strong and vibrant through this period of change. That means businesses need to have confidence that there will not be a cliff-edge when we leave the EU in just over 20 months' time," they wrote.

"That is why we believe a time-limited interim period will be important to further our national interest and give business greater certainty - but it cannot be indefinite; it cannot be a back door to staying in the EU.

"We are both clear that during this period the UK will be outside the customs union and will be a 'third country', not a party to EU treaties."

Meanwhile British government ministers were this week due to start publishing detailed papers setting out their aims for the Brexit talks, with Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative government facing criticism over a perceived lack of clarity about its negotiating position.

The papers will include one covering the difficult issue of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland once Britain has left the EU.

Another batch, to be released ahead of the October meeting of the European Council in Brussels, will examine future arrangements including Britain's proposals for a customs agreement with the EU.

Britain's Brexit Secretary David Davis is due to hold a third round of talks with the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels at the end of August.