British govt sees need for phased Brexit: Hammond

LONDON: Senior members of the government are becoming convinced of the need for a phased British departure from the European Union to help protect the economy, finance minister Philip Hammond said on Sunday.
Brexit minister David Davis heads to Brussels on Monday for a first full round of talks, with EU officials hoping the British government, yet to set out detailed proposals on several major issues, begins to show more urgency about doing a deal before Britain leaves the bloc in 2019.
Hammond, who supported remaining in the EU at last year’s referendum, is seen as the voice of a so-called ‘soft Brexit’ within Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet, favouring prioritising trade ties with the EU over curbing immigration.
With May weakened by a failed election gamble last month which saw her Conservatives lose their parliamentary majority, Britain’s weekend papers were full of stories of infighting as cabinet colleagues reportedly vie for her job.
Hammond, regarded as one potential successor to May, has repeatedly talked about the need for a transitional deal, saying such an arrangement would see Britain replicate as much as possible the existing arrangements in order to minimise the impact on business.
“Five weeks ago the idea of a transition period was quite a new concept, I think now you would find that pretty much everybody around the cabinet table accepts that there will be some kind of transition,” Hammond told BBC TV.
“I think you’ll find the cabinet rallying around a position that maximises our negotiating leverage and gets the best possible deal for Britain.”
Trade minister Liam Fox, who favours making a cleaner break with the bloc, said he did not have a problem with a transition period as long as it was for a limited duration and gave Britain the freedom to negotiate its own trade deals.
Hammond said the government needed to provide as much clarity as possible, as soon as possible, to restore business and consumer confidence and keep the economy moving.
“It is absolutely clear that businesses, where they have discretion over investment, where they can hold off, are doing so … they are waiting for more clarity about what the future relationship with Europe will look like,” he said. — Reuters