Top UK ministers: Brexit transition cannot be back door to staying in EU

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain needs a transition period to soften its exit from the European Union, but it cannot be used to stop Brexit, two senior ministers said on Sunday, signaling a truce between rival factions in Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet.

May’s Brexit strategy has been the subject of open debate among her top team ever since a botched June election which weakened her authority and exposed differences of opinion over how Britain should manage its departure from the bloc.

However, the pro-European finance minister Philip Hammond and ardent Brexiteer trade minister Liam Fox looked to end the debate by setting out a joint position in a newspaper article, as Britain said it was ready to push on with Brexit talks.

“We believe a time-limited interim period will be important to further our national interest and give business greater certainty – but it cannot be indefinite; it cannot be a back door to staying in the EU,” Hammond and Fox wrote in a joint article for the Sunday Telegraph newspaper.

Hammond had previously angered pro-Brexit colleagues and some voters by raising the prospect of an exit deal that saw little immediate change on issues such as immigration when Britain leaves in March 2019, and which could last until 2022.

Such an arrangement was criticized by eurosceptics as a betrayal of the swift Brexit they wanted, and has even raised concerns the process would be stopped altogether after Britons voted in a referendum in June 2016 to leave the bloc.

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But the article said the government strategy was not being watered down and Britain would leave on schedule, albeit with a transition period.

“We are both clear that during this period the UK will be outside the (EU) single market and outside the customs union and will be a ‘third-country’ not party to EU treaties,” they said.

However it also confirmed that immigration controls – one of the key issues for voters who backed Brexit – would not stop all EU workers coming to…

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