Tory Leavers will support the government on interim Brexit arrangements lasting two or three years so long as the period is strictly time-limited and cannot be extended. Leave-supporting ministers and MPs say they back the government’s plan for a so-called “softer landing”, arguing it is both sensible and necessary to achieve a proper Brexit outside the single market and customs union. Yesterday leading Brexiter and Open Europe chairman Lord Wolfson called for a “smooth” rather than “rushed” departure process. The feeling among Tory Leavers is that the destination is the same – a clean, open Brexit – but there will be a “softer” journey to get there.
Suella Fernandes, the new head of the influential European Research Group of 80 Leave Tory MPs, tells Guido:
“It is entirely pragmatic and sensible, as we do with other legislation, for there to be a strictly time-limited interim implementation phase, but by no means should that be read as a cover up for staying in.”
Leave MPs have two main conditions for supporting an interim arrangement. They say it is crucial the period is “time-limited” – that an irrevocable departure date is set and cannot be extended. Their fear is that without a time-limit continuity Remainers and civil servants will aim for “permanent transition” or repeated delays to ultimately keep the UK inside the EU. Leavers also want Britain fully out of the single market and customs union within two or three years, well in time for the next election. Tory MPs are concerned that the public will want to see progress on immigration and trade deals by the time they next vote. One of David Davis’ main reasons for lobbying Theresa May to call a snap election was so Brexit could be fully completed by the next election. This means an interim period of two or three years, over well in time for 2022.
The Remain media’s focus on “soft” versus “hard” Brexit has been misleading. Everyone in government including Philip Hammond agrees on a destination outside the single market and customs union. It is the journey that is interesting – Hammond and Leavers now agree on a “softer landing”, so long as the transition is short and time-limited. Expect UKIP to complain (they have to, or else they have nothing to say). But so long as Leave MPs’ conditions are met this seems to Guido a sensible approach for a smooth, real Brexit…