International trade secretary Liam Fox today set himself on collision course with his fellow Brexit backers in the Conservative party by saying he would accept an extension to a period of transition from the EU.
The Cabinet minister, one of the most prominent voices in favour of leaving the EU during the referendum campaign, said that under certain conditions he would accept a longer stay within many of the EU’s institutions.
“If the transition period had to be extended for technical reasons […] and we already had the withdrawal agreement and the future economic partnership already agreed, I wouldn’t have a major problem with that," he told Sky News, "as long as it was very time-limited and there was a unilateral mechanism for Britain to pull out of it if we thought that we were being kept in the European Union against our will.”
The technical reasons which could delay the end of the transition period include the refusal of another country to ratify a deal or a lack of “technical means” by the end of December 2020, the agreed end point.
Fox’s intervention came after foreign secretary Boris Johnson criticised a potential “bog roll Brexit”, which would be “soft, yielding and seemingly infinitely long”.
However, an extension to the transition period is seen by some in the business community as a welcome potential development, allowing more time to make changes to operating models and supply chains depending on the shape of the final deal.
“What we couldn’t accept was any extension to the implementation period that was under the control of Brussels, not under the control of London,” Fox added.