Philip Hammond has issued a thinly veiled warning to European leaders not to obstruct Britain’s efforts to secure a favourable Brexit deal, as he urged against allowing “petty politics” to trump economic good sense.
Speaking at a conference in Berlin, the Chancellor appeared to hit out at Brussels figures who have been critical of the UK’s plans to leave, as he called on those involved in negotiations to “maximise [the] mutual benefits”.
It came as Brexit Secretary David Davis gave a fresh indication of divisions in the Cabinet as he claimed Britain will have left the customs union by the time talks are concluded in March 2019, and any transitional arrangement will end by 2022.
This is in contrast with Mr Hammond’s own suggestion that the country could remain an “associate” member of the customs union until a new trade deal with the EU is complete – potentially several years down the line.
Addressing the CDU annual economic conference today, the Chancellor spoke of his desire to pursue a Brexit deal that will “protects jobs, business, and prosperity” across Europe. He told those gathered that his aim in negotiations is to “ensure that we maintain a close and mutually beneficial relationship between the EU and a UK”, adding: “our economy is firmly in the European mainstream, and it is our ardent wish to be able to keep it anchored there”.
But despite the warm words, he went on to highlight “two key risks” he claimed could prevent all parties from “maximis[ing]” the “mutual benefit” of a Brexit deal. This included allowing “petty politics to interfere with economic logic”, and failing to agree on a transitional arrangement to avoid a “cliff edge” exit.
This was seen as a dig at EU leaders who have leaked details of private meetings and publicly criticised Britain’s approach to negotiations. It follows Theresa May’s claims during the election campaign that European politicians were making “threats” against Britain to try to influence the result.
Speaking at a separate event in London, Mr Davis struck a bullish tone as he predicted the UK will have left the customs union by the time Brexit talks are complete in March 2019, and any transitional deal will end by 2022. He said Mr Hammond’s previous comments on transition timescales were “not quite consistent”, but stressed he agreed with the Chancellor on putting jobs first.