Britain’s Brexit Minister David Davis on Friday sought to reassure Eurosceptics that the UK will pursue an independent path in trade relations after Brexit, following remarks by the country’s Finance Minister that aroused their anger. Speaking in the town of Middlesbrough, Davis acknowledged that no new trade deals could enter into effect during a two-year implementation period following Britain’s effective exit from the EU, during which the UK would continue to observe EU customs union and single-market rules.
However, he said, “participating in a customs union should not and will not preclude us from formally negotiating – and indeed signing – independent trade agreements; although, of course, they would not enter into force until the implementation period has ended.”
Tensions over post-Brexit relations between the UK and the EU resurfaced after Finance Minister Philip Hammond said on Thursday at the World Economic Forum in Davos that his country wanted “the closest possible relationship” with the EU after Brexit. He had also suggested that the UK would distance itself in a “very modest” way from the European economy after the withdrawal.
Hammond’s words were disavowed by Prime Minister Theresa May, one of whose spokespersons said London’s will to pull out of the single market and customs union “could not be described as very modest changes”.
The head of a pro-Brexit conservative group in parliament, Jacob Rees-Mogg, had seized the opportunity to warn May of the need to respect the British people’s Brexit vote, exposing once again the divisions within the ruling majority on the issue of future ties with the EU. Accusing the Government of allowing itself to be intimidated by Brussels, the parliamentarian had stressed that he would not accept a model that would keep Britain in a system similar to the single market and customs union.
This week’s tensions emerged as the 27 other EU countries prepared to approve, next week, directives on the two-year transition period requested by London after its withdrawal from the EU, scheduled for the 29th of March 2019.