The Brexit talks start on Monday. Theresa May hoped that they would be beginning with the UK government's hand strengthened by her enhanced majority. But, as I say in The Sun this morning, the opposite has happened. The indecisive election result means that there is again uncertainty about the government’s Brexit position.
There is lots of talk about what Philip Hammond wants, and how he might seek to ‘soften’ Brexit. Leave supporting ministers are certainly anxious about what he’s up to. One fumes that if Hammond succeeds in watering down Brexit then he’ll cause ‘a schism in the Tory party’ and multiple Cabinet ministers will resign.
Now, I think the overall Brexit policy probably won’t change—Britain will still be committed to leaving the EU, the single market and the customs union. But the pace at which it happens is up for debate. That’s where the space is’ one senior Treasury source informs me.
Up to now, it had been assumed that the transition would all be done by 2022—the date of the next election under the fixed term parliament act. But I now sense it might run longer if the EU is open to that. When I put it to one of those drawing up the UK’s negotiating strategy that the transition might have to be extended beyond the next election, I was told that ‘argument is becoming more plausible’.
Leavers shouldn’t immediately set themselves against an extended transition period. As long as it is time limited—so the UK can’t end up stuck in limbo--and would result in the UK leaving the customs union and regaining control of policy, then it needn’t be a bad thing and might help make Brexit smoother. What matters most is the destination, not how quickly we get there.