Brexit minister David Davis will seek to reassure eurosceptics about the government’s strategy for leaving the EU on Friday after fresh splits emerged in the ruling Conservative party.
Prime Minister Theresa May rebuked her finance minister, Philip Hammond, on Thursday after he suggested Britain would only move “very modestly apart” from the EU’s economy after Brexit.
Meanwhile backbench MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, who leads a group of more than 50 Brexit-supporting Conservative MPs, warned ministers against being too “timid”.
Tensions are rising as the other 27 EU countries prepare to approve guidelines next week for talks on the terms of a two-year transition period requested by Britain after Brexit.
They will be followed by discussions on Britain’s future trading relations, but — just over a year from Brexit in March 2019 — London has yet to set out exactly what it wants.
In his speech Friday, Davis will promise: “As an independent country, no longer a member of the European Union — the United Kingdom will once again have its own trading policy.
“For the first time in more than 40 years, we will be able to step out and sign new trade deals with old friends, and new allies, around the globe.”
He will say that Britain will be able to negotiate and even sign deals during the transition period, although they will not come into force until afterwards.
Davis denied claims this week that Britain will be a “vassal” of the EU during the transition, when it will follow the bloc’s rules in return for market access but have no policymaking role.
– ‘Very modestly’ –
The key issue was the future relationship, he said — but that remains a matter for debate in May’s cabinet.
In Davos, Hammond said the EU trade talks involved “taking two completely interconnected and aligned economies with high levels of trade between them, and selectively, moving them, hopefully very modestly, apart”.
This phrase “very modestly” drew criticism from some eurosceptic MPs and rebuke from May’s Downing Street office.
A source in her office said Britain was committed to leaving the EU’s single market and customs union, and “these could not be described as very modest changes”.
Rees-Mogg, the chairman of the eurosceptic European Research Group who made the “vassal state” accusation to Davis, warned that staying close to the EU risked making Brexit a “damage limitation exercise”.
“The British people did not vote for that. They did not vote for the management of decline. They voted for hope and opportunity and politicians must now deliver it,” he said in a speech on Thursday evening.
“If we do not, if we are timid and cowering and terrified of the future, then our children and theirs will judge us in the balance and find us wanting.”