UK’s business secretary holds out prospect of longer Brexit transition

Greg Clark says more time may be needed, as hard Brexiteers heap pressure on May

Secretary of State for Business Greg Clark. Photograph: Will Oliver/EPA

Secretary of State for Business Greg Clark. Photograph: Will Oliver/EPA


Britain’s post-Brexit transition arrangement with the European Union could extend beyond its scheduled limit of December 2020, one of Theresa May’s most senior ministers has suggested. Business secretary Greg Clark said during a visit to the port of Dover that evidence should dictate when Britain moves away from the status quo in terms of alignment with the EU.

“At all times we need to be guided by the evidence on this. Speaking to the people that run this very successful port ... in order to make sure that we can continue the success, and that we don’t have frictions, there are things that would need to put in place,” he told Sky News.

“Computer systems, for example, posts at the border, even if they checked number plates. What we need to assess is how long it would reasonably take to put in practice, and then it seems to me that any reasonable person would have to be guided by the facts and the evidence.”

The cabinet will meet next Friday at the prime minister’s country residence at Chequers, ahead of the publication next week of a white paper outlining the future relationship Britain wants with the EU. More than 30 Eurosceptic Conservative backbenchers have written to Ms May telling her to show “courage and leadership” and to stand firm against calls to compromise with the EU.

“Our departure must be absolute,” the letter states. “We must not remain entangled with the EU’s institutions if this restricts our ability to exercise our sovereignty as an independent nation. Anything less will be a weakening of our democracy. Britain must stand firm.”

‘Danger of disunity’

Housing secretary James Brokenshire said on Sunday that he was confident that ministers would unite around a common position at Friday’s meeting.

And Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers said that cabinet disunity could lead to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn becoming prime minister.

“The danger of disunity at the top of the party is not just that it makes the prime minister’s job more difficult in negotiations with Brussels, and therefore puts at risk the good Brexit deal that is in reach,” Mr Brady wrote in the Observer. “It also gives an impression of division to the country. Electorates these days are volatile, but one thing is certain: they do not vote for divided parties. They rejected decisively the divided Tory party in 1997. If we were to let Labour in again, it would be a disaster for this country.”

Mr Corbyn is under pressure from anti-Brexit groups in his party to back calls for a referendum on the final Brexit deal, as a poll showed most members of the Unite union wanted a second vote. Members of Momentum, the grass-roots group that backs Mr Corbyn’s leadership, have also called for a fresh referendum but the Labour leader on Sunday resisted the demand.

“We have not proposed it, we have not supported it and we are not proposing it now,” he told Sky News.