- David Davis says Britain will remain within custom union rules during any Brexit transition.
- This means that no new trade deals can come into force until at least 2021.
- Britain will remain on “current terms” with the EU for at least two years after Brexit.
- Davis is facing rising anger from Conservative Brexit supporters worried that he is prepared to turn Britain into a “vassal state” of the EU.
- His speech was rewritten following Conservative fury about calls for a soft Brexit by the Chancellor Philip Hammond.
LONDON – The British government will be unable to bring in a single trade deal with other countries until at least two years after Britain leaves the EU, the Brexit Secretary David Davis said in a speech on Friday.
Britain is due to leave the EU next year and government ministers have previously insisted that Britain would sign up to 40 free trade deals with non-EU countries “the second after midnight” on March 2019.
However, Davis said that while Britain would remain within existing EU trade and customs rules during the transition, meaning it would be blocked from actually bringing in any of these deals until at least 2021.
“Of course maintaining access to each other’s markets on current terms means we will replicate the effects of the EU customs union during the implementation period,” Davis said.
“But participating in a customs union should not preclude us from formally negotiating – or indeed signing – trade agreements.
“Although, of course, they would not enter into force until the implementation period has ended.”
Davis said that Britain and the EU would continue to trade on “current terms” including the jurisdiction of European courts, once negotiations begin in the coming weeks.
The admissions comes amid growing anger among Brexit-supporting Conservative MPs that the government appears willing to sign up to highly restrictive EU rules during any Brexit transition.
Leading backbench MP Jacob Rees-Mogg berated Davis as “weak” at a meeting of the Brexit select committee on Wednesday, accusing the Brexit secretary of agreeing to make Britain a “vassal state” during any transition.
“If on the 30th March, 2019, the UK is subject to European Court of Justice, takes new rules relating to the single market, and is paying into the European budget, are we not a vassal state?” Rees-Mogg asked Davis.
He later told Davis to: “Be honest about it. We are de facto staying in the EU for two more years.”
A ‘bridge to the future’ outside the EU
However, Davis used his speech today, in Middlesbrough, North East England, to paint an optimistic portrait of Britain’s trading opportunities after Brexit.
“As an independent country, no longer a member of the European Union – the United Kingdom will once again have its own trading policy,” he said.
“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 said that Brexit would allow Britain to shift its balance of trade to nations outside of the EU.
“Increasingly, we are trading with the key emerging markets of the world in Asia and the Americas,” he said.
“The UK’s fastest growing export markets between 2005 and 2014 included countries like China and Brazil.
“And we will be able to do so much more with them, when we are an independent trading nation, outside of the EU.”
He defended the government’s decision to agree to a Brexit transition, describing it as a “bridge to the future” that would “allow Britain to support our future partnership” with the EU.
Davis’s speech was reportedly rewritten by the prime minister’s aides last night following outrage among Conservative MPs over a speech by the chancellor Philip Hammond in Davos, Switzerland, in which he said there would only be “very modest” changes to Britain’s trading relationship with the EU after Brexit.
Rees-Mogg, an increasingly-influential voice within the Tory party, said on Thursday that he “profoundly” disagreed with Hammond, who he said “must have been affected by high mountain air” in Davos.
Meanwhile, former cabinet minister Owen Paterson said Hammond “appeared to be transmitting the standard Treasury view that this is all a nightmare, all a big mistake and it should be minimised”.
A spokesperson for the prime minister slapped down the chancellor on Thursday, saying that the government’s Brexit plans “could not be described as very modest changes.”
However, they insisted that May still had “full confidence” in her chancellor.
Asked about Hammond’s comments today, Davis insisted that while there may be “arguments about tactics…there is no difference between the chancellor and myself,” on their fundamental approach to Brexit.
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