Cabinet struggles to convey coherent Brexit approach

Jeremy Hunt

Jeremy Hunt  

The battle within the British cabinet over the precise shape and path to Brexit continued to be waged over the past week, as politicians sought to expound their views on a range of related issues from the freedom of movement Britain currently enjoys with Europe to taxation and the transitional arrangements.

“Brexit excites huge passions, they’re on different sides these passions,” admitted Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt of his cabinet colleagues, during a BBC radio interview on Monday morning. But he denied suggestions that they were ‘deeply divided” and risked sending the wrong message to Brussels.

“There is unity on two things: we are going to deliver Brexit... and we are going to deliver the type of Brexit people voted for at the referendum... control over law, borders, and money.”

However, four months after Britain formally triggered Article 50, the section of the Lisbon Treaty that sets out the process for exiting the union, Britain has been struggling to convey a coherent vision of its approach to Brexit, with two “camps” developing within the Cabinet, with some favouring a gentler easing into Brexit and others in favour of a swift plan that quickly regained control of Britain’s borders.

Deepening tensions

Those tensions deepened over the weekend as Chancellor Philip Hammond confirmed in an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde that Britain would not cut taxes and change its economic model in the wake of Brexit as some within the Conservative Party had been pushing for and he had hinted at previously.

Maintaining the possibility of building a “Singapore upon Thames” had been seen by some as a bargaining chip that Britain could hold over Europe to force concessions on key issues by European Nations, particularly over Britain’s access to the single market.

Europe has repeatedly insisted that the single market is not divisible and cannot be separated from free movement across the region — something that the most ardent supporters of Brexit in the cabinet are strongly against.

Transitional period

The Chancellor’s insistence that Britain would be pushing for a transitional period of up to three years to avoid a “cliff edge” situation put him at loggerheads with others in the Cabinet, such as International Trade Secretary Liam Fox who told The Sunday Times this weekend that keeping freedom of movement, including for the transitional period, would “not keep faith” with the result of the referendum.

“Businesses urgently need to know what a new system will look like — during transition and afterwards,” the main industry body, Confederation of British Industry, said last week after the government announced a review of the impact of EU immigration on Britain.

Brexit negotiations between Britain and the European Union commenced on June 19, with a second round taking in mid-July. Further rounds are set to take place in August, September and October.

The EU is adamant that discussions cannot move on to the shape of the future relationship until initial issues are settled over the rights of EU citizens in Britain (and vice versa), and agreement on Britain’s “divorce” bill. Britain is set to leave the union on March 29, 2019.

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