Although this week has seen a divergence of views in the Cabinet over Brexit (not to mention Labour’s continuing Brexit confusion) on everything from chlorinated chicken to freedom of movement, there is one aspect of the negotiations that all ministers can agree on: the need for a transitional agreement.
Speaking on the Today programme, the Chancellor confirmed that ‘many things would look similar’ the day after Brexit. The new Cabinet consensus for an implementation period while the UK moves towards a new relationship with the EU is something Philip Hammond has been lobbying for for some time.
The expectation in Whitehall is that Theresa May will give a speech in September setting out in more detail the government’s view on Brexit and transition. But the emerging Cabinet compromise is becoming clearer by the day. Philip Hammond gets a three year transition in which not much will change to try and smooth out the process of leaving. In exchange, the Brexiteers get their version of Brexit – Britain out of the single market and the customs union.
Another thing that makes this compromise more palatable to Tory Leavers is that Hammond is acknowledging that the transition period would need to end before the next election in 2022. This would mean that the opposition can’t turn the next election into a referendum on Brexit.
The next question then becomes if the EU will accept this Brexit transition period. One suspects that Brussels’ initial reaction will be to insist on further progress on the divorce payment and citizens rights’ before discussing it. But a, relatively, off the shelf transition deal would be hard for the EU to refuse without this looking like a hostile act that would call into doubt future cooperation.