The Eurosceptic backlash threatened to overshadow the meeting of Theresa May’s Brexit ‘war cabinet’
Britain will be fully out of the EU by the end of 2020, Government sources said last night.
A senior Whitehall source said the so-called ‘transition period’ would almost certainly be over by the end of December 2020, when the current seven-year EU budget expires.
The declaration came after a day of confusion and claims from some Eurosceptics that the Government’s Brexit strategy was becoming ‘shambolic’.
Ministers yesterday published negotiating guidelines saying the transition period should be governed by ‘how long it will take to prepare’ for leaving the EU – suggesting it could be open-ended.
This sparked a Eurosceptic backlash, which threatened to overshadow today’s crunch meeting of Theresa May’s Brexit ‘war cabinet’ at Chequers.
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said the Government document had not been signed off by the Cabinet – and described the handling of the situation as ‘chaotic’. ‘Who is writing this stuff?’ he added.
‘We seem to have a government run by officials. A Cabinet minister has told me definitively this is not government policy, yet it appears in a government document. It is shambolic, and it does not inspire confidence.’
Tory MP Philip Davies said: ‘Why does it need to be more than two years? All of this foot-dragging and faffing about is unacceptable to the general public.’
To add to the confusion, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte emerged from talks with Mrs May to suggest that any agreement on the length of a Brexit transition could be extended at a later date – an idea that is being actively considered in Brussels.
Brexit minister Steve Baker insisted ‘there will be a fixed date’ when a deal on the transition period is agreed.
Downing Street said Mrs May was committed to seeking a transition of ‘about two years’ after the UK leaves in March 2019. A senior Whitehall source said: ‘The reality is we will end up with an implementation period that finishes at the end of December 2020.
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte emerged from talks with Mrs May to suggest that any agreement on the length of a Brexit transition could be extended at a later date
‘There is a very strong feeling in Brussels that that is the right date and it fits with our own desire for a period of about two years.’ At Chequers senior ministers will try to thrash out the UK’s negotiating demands ahead of EU trade talks next month.
They will hear presentations on Brexit’s potential impact on car manufacturers, farmers, the digital sector, trade and Northern Ireland, and then try to agree a position, that will form the basis of a speech by Mrs May next week.
A Cabinet source said there was broad agreement on a ‘cake and eat it’ strategy of demanding extensive single market access with the freedom to set regulations. But another said there was division on the customs union and how quickly Britain should diverge from EU rules.
More than 60 Tory MPs wrote to the PM saying a divorce deal must secure ‘full regulatory autonomy’.