A Brexit transition period is looking more and more likely despite a cabinet rift

 
Julian Harris
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Small businesses fear a "cliff edge" if Brexit happens suddenly (Source: Getty)

Not even 100 days have passed since Theresa May stood outside Number 10 Downing Street and revealed her plan for a snap General Election.

The public, she said, would choose either her “strong and stable leadership in the national interest”, or a “weak and unstable coalition led by Jeremy Corbyn”. The Prime Minister’s catchphrase subsequently became ripe for mockery following the Conservatives’ electoral car crash on 8 June, with many people still revelling in the weak and unstable nature of May’s minority government.

Instead of ending up with a cabinet of disciples dutifully following the PM’s meticulously planned road to Brexit, we now have open season – an uncontrollable group of ambitious politicians with varying views and incentives, free to take pot shots at each other in a bid to seize control of the Brexit battleground.

Read more: Hammond accuses hardliners of targeting him over jobs-first approach

The situation has led to considerable unease in the City and throughout businesses across the UK, as executives wonder how Britain’s historic exit from the EU will unfold. Their understandable reaction has been to repeat calls for a substantial period of transition, the latest of which was made by the Federation of Small Businesses over the weekend.

On this front, there are signs of success. The PM was lobbied hard enough during last week’s business summit to ensure that a promised “period of implementation” made its way into a No10 statement following the meeting. Cabinet ministers, both in public and in background briefings, appear increasingly confident of reaching a consensus.

Divisions remain, of course, but even David Davis and Liam Fox now seem happy to sanction a transition of two to three years.

Read more: Soft Brexit? Chancellor claims big support for a transitional deal

The nature of the transition may still prove a sticking point, with chancellor Philip Hammond keen to maintain close economic links, while Fox and Davis strive to break the fetters that prevent them from sealing post-Brexit trade deals.

But these inter-governmental arguments are here to stay, so we better get used to them. The UK’s Brexit strategy will not be determined simply by one person at the top – rather, it is emerging through rigorous, relentless debate and political consensus-building. And that’s no bad thing.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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