Chancellor denies Brexit preparations ‘badly handled’

UK government yet to decide on single market and customs union, says Philip Hammond

UK chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond (centre) meeting Gerry Mallon, chief executive of Ulster Bank (left) and Patrick Walsh, MD of Dogpatch Labs during a visit to the Dogpatch Labs co-working space in Dublin. Photograph: Maxwell Photography/PA Wire

The British chancellor of the exchequer has denied the UK's preparations for Brexit have been "badly handled".

However, speaking on RTÉ television after meeting Minister for Finance Michael Noonan in Dublin on Monday, Philip Hammond accepted that the British government had not "made any decision about which structures would best support our aspirations, whether it's being in or out of the customs union, in or out of the single market".

RTÉ: "Chancellor thanks for talking to us for six o'clock. There's been a lot of criticism in recent months about Britain's handling of the run up to intense negotiations – our own Minister of Foreign Affairs here is very concerned about the uncertainty surrounding the old ambassador in Brussels. Talking about muddled thinking on the UK side, do you accept that, do you accept that it's been badly handled?"

Philip Hammond: “No I don’t. Just because we’ve not laid out as much information as our negotiating counterparts would perhaps like us to have done, doesn’t say anything of the sort.


"We're preparing for a negotiation that will start after we serve the article 50 notice later this spring. And we will then proceed in an orderly fashion to work through the very many complex issues that have to be worked through to get a sensible Brexit which works for Europe and works for the UK."

RTÉ: "Phil Hogan has spoken today saying this is 'a mess and getting messier'. Your old ambassador Sir Ivan Rogers has even said he's not clear what your negotiating objectives are, he doesn't know what he's supposed to be negotiating for."

Philip Hammond: “Well, we’ve been very clear that we want to end up in a situation where the UK recovers sovereignty in the sense of being able to control its own borders, make its own laws to find its own destiny.

"But we also want to have a vibrant partnership and a free trading relationship with the European Union. We think that's good for the European Union and good for Britain. And I can see no logical reason why people on both sides of the English Channel and indeed both sides of the Irish Sea wouldn't want us to continue to work closely together after Britain's left the European Union."

RTÉ: “Let’s take some specifics, matters that you will accept are pretty serious concerns in this country. For example, would it be an objective of yours or the British government to remain if possible part of the single market?”

Philip Hammond: “Well, we haven’t made any decision about which structures would best support our aspirations, whether it’s being in or out of the customs union, in or out of the single market. We think it’s much better to start with the objectives, what we want to achieve at the end, recognise that there are political red lines on both sides and then look at how best we can structure a solution, which delivers those objectives within the political red lines that both sides face.”

Freedom of movement

RTÉ: “A lot of people on the wrong side are saying it’s time to come clean on this and say actually, if the price of continued participation in the single market is free movement of people and lack of control over migration, that’s something you should be prepared to accept at this stage?”

Philip Hammond: "Well we're clear that at the end of the process, we have to be able to control migration into the United Kingdom, that is a clear message that we took, a clear mandate that we took from the electorate on June 23rd.

"But as we go forward we will also want to explore how we can get to a position where Ireland and Germany and France are able to carry on trading with the UK, bearing in mind we run a huge trade deficit with our EU partners.

“But we want to keep our markets open to our EU partners. We want our companies to be able to access the markets of our EU neighbours in the future. Let’s explore what the options are. How we can get out of this, a win-win situation that delivers for the economies of the European Union and for the UK while respecting those political red lines.”

RTÉ: “Are you still of the view that there should be a transitional arrangements at the end of the two-year period?”

Philip Hammond: “Well I think we’re going to have to explore with our European Union partners how quickly we can get to a solution that provides a long-term settlement between the European Union and the UK and sets out future bilateral relations. If necessary we will have to discuss what the interim period should look like between Britain leaving the European Union and delivering those long-term arrangements, if we can’t get them in place by April 2019. But our first objective would clearly be to try to get everything negotiated and completed by April 2019.”

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times