WATCH Greg Clark says 'any reasonable person' would mull Brexit transition extension
Business Secretary Greg Clark has refused to rule out extending the UK’s Brexit transition period beyond 2020, in a move likely to enrage Brexiteers in his party.
Theresa May signed off on a so-called ‘implementation period’ with the EU earlier this year, with the half-in, half-out arrangement set to run from March 2019 to December 2020.
But the Prime Minister is now under pressure from her own backbenchers not to extend the transition any further.
More than 30 Tory MPs this weekend signed an open letter to Mrs May in favour of an “absolute” break with the EU, and warning her not to let the transition period drag on beyond 2020.
But Mr Clark - who backed Remain in the 2016 referendum - said ministers had “to be guided by the evidence”.
Pressed Brexiteer International Trade Secretary Liam Fox's support for a "time-limited" extension last week, Mr Clark said the Government needed to "look at what is required" by businesses.
"I think what Liam was saying and what I agree with is when it comes to putting in place the arrangements for our final, our permanent relationship we have to be guided by the evidence on that," he told Sky's Sophy Ridge. "And that's only reasonable. What business wouldn't?"
While Mr Clark ruled out any extension to the Article 50 deadline - which expires in March next year and officially sees the UK leave the European Union and begin the transition - he stressed that the Government had a duty to ensure the right systems were in place before going it alone.
"I think we at all times need to be guided by the evidence on this," he said during an interview in Dover.
"So - speaking to the people that run this very successful port and the same at Eurotunnel - 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 be put in place.
"Computer systems, for example, posts at the border even if they checked automatically number plates... So 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 comments risk firing up Conservative backbenchers, with the group of 36 MPs pressing Mrs May to back a speedy break with the EU at a crunch Chequers summit on Friday.
"We must not remain entangled with the EU’s institutions if this restricts our ability to exercise our sovereignty as an independent nation," their letter warns.
They added: "Anything less will be a weakening of our democracy. Britain must stand firm."
CORBYN BACKS TRANSITION EXTENSION
Meanwhile Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said today that his party would back an extension of the Brexit transition period, as he cast doubt on ministers' assurances they will have plans in place in time for the current expiry date.
"We proposed a transition period in the first place," he told Ms Ridge.
"That was a Labour proposal and there obviously has to be a transition. At the moment it's not set in stone but it's talked around two years. I've got a feeling it might go beyond that."
Asked specifically whether he would be happy with such an extension, Mr Corbyn replied: "Yes. Because I do think the priority has to be our investment in different parts of Britain to ensure we do get fair economic growth across the whole of the UK.
"But it also has to be protecting jobs of those industries on trade with Europe - particularly in the midlands and the north east."