William Hague has come out in support of Philip Hammond’s plans to have a transition period where the UK effectively remains in the single market until 2022.
The former Conservative leader says the Chancellor’s approach could “rescue Brexit from an approaching disaster”.
It comes after the Prime Minister appeared to be at odds with the Chancellor on his approach and it shows how senior Conservatives appear to be drawing their internal party battle lines for the coming negotiations.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Mr Hague argues that there are dangers of a slowdown in the economy.
He says this may embolden the EU negotiators to maintain a hard line on the rights of migrants and that they “will be tempted to stall negotiations by October, adding to the gloom in boardrooms”.
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Mr Hague believes businesses need to be offered clarity and stability.
He says the Chancellor “has evidently been trying to persuade his Cabinet colleagues that we should be seeking to stay in the EU single market and customs union during a transition and ‘implementation’ phase lasting to 2022, followed by a free trade deal with our former partners after that”.
He adds: “This has been seen by longstanding advocates of leaving as a ‘soft’ position or a climbdown. But in reality it is a plan to rescue Brexit from approaching disaster.”
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Mr Hague concludes: “This should, of course, be the plan of the whole Government agreed in advance and relayed unanimously… Mr Hammond was against leaving the EU.
“He might nevertheless have put forward the one way to leave without many millions of people becoming disenchanted with the idea, and for that he deserves the support of even the most ardent Brexiteer.”
Last week Philip Hammond, who was in charge of the country while Theresa May was on holiday in Italy, reportedly told business leaders he favoured a “standstill” Brexit transition with “many arrangements remaining very similar to how they were the day before we exited”.
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But the first official statement from Number 10 since the Chancellor made the controversial comments suggested the Prime Minister sees things rather differently.
“Free movement will end in March 2019,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said in a weekly briefing for journalists.
“It would be wrong to speculate that free movement will continue as it is now.”
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Today, the Chair of the Treasury Committee Nicky Morgan has written to Sam Woods, CEO of the Prudential Regulation Authority, requesting information about Brexit’s impact on activities between the UK and the rest of the EU.
Another strong advocate of a soft Brexit, Mrs Morgan said: “The cliff edge facing businesses in April 2019 is a cause for concern, particularly in the financial services sector.
Based on the information the PRA has collected, I have asked Sam Woods about how banks and insurers will respond as the Brexit deadline approaches, and the key risks of a ‘no deal’ scenario.”