Liam Fox: Length of post-Brexit transition phase ‘not a huge deal’
Liam Fox has opened the door to a post-Brexit transition phase lasting more than two years, saying the length of time is “not a huge deal”.
The International Trade Secretary suggested he wanted the arrangements to cushion the impact of leaving the European Union to have come to an end before the next UK general election, due to take place in 2022.
But he stressed that the timeframe was a “practical” issue rather than “ideological blockage”.
The comments underline the shift in tone from Dr Fox, who earlier this month told Bloomberg he would be “very happy” with a transitional phase lasting “a few months”.
Last week he signalled that the arrangements could last two years, and today he told the Andrew Marr Show that waiting 24 months, or longer, would be a “rounding error”.
“I want to leave the European Union in March 2019,” he said.
“Now, once we have done that, once we’ve fulfilled our promise to the British people, we can look to see what we are going to do in terms of making that smooth transition for our businesses, to give them maximal certainty and to cause minimal disruption.
“And frankly having waited over forty years to leave the European Union, to wait 24 months would be a rounding error…
“Whether that’s 23, 25 is not a huge deal and nor is it an ideological one, it’s about the practical issues that we would face about getting for example any new immigration system into place, any new customs system into place, that’s a practical issue and I think we would want to get it out of the way before the election.
“I don’t think people would want it dragging on, but I think it’s perfectly reasonable to have a transition that makes it as smooth as possible, I think that what businesses would want to have in Britain and I think our investors abroad also want to see.”
The Tory minister – who has been a long-standing advocate of leaving the EU – said he wanted certain safeguards to be in place to avoid politicians using the transition phase to delay or block Brexit.
He added: “I think we would have to be very clear that this is time limited and that it’s limited in its scope, we knew exactly what it was going to mean, for example would we be able to negotiate trade agreements during that transition period, because if we were not we wouldn’t be able to take full advantage of the freedoms available to us when we leave the European.
“There’s a lot of discussion to be had, but I don’t think there’s any great ideological blockage on the concept of a transition or an implementation period as I prefer to call it.”
Mr Fox also said he was more sure that leaving the European Union was the right decision than before the vote last year.
“Our economy has been very robust, our foreign direct investment’s at a record level, we’ve seen our economy continue to grow with record employment and falling unemployment, rising confidence among our manufacturers, so it seems to me that we should go into this with a great deal of confidence,” he said.
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