David Davis plays down Tory row over Brexit transition

Media caption,
Davis: No difference over Brexit aims

David Davis has said there is "no difference" between him, the chancellor and prime minister following a Tory row over the terms of a Brexit transition.

The Brexit Secretary said all three wanted the UK's exit from the EU in March 2019 to "serve the British economy... and the British people".

There was a "diversity of views" in all parties and EU member states, he said.

Backbench Tories had criticised Philip Hammond for saying that changes to UK-EU relations could be "very modest".

No 10 distanced itself from Mr Hammond's remarks and one Tory MP said he should "stick to the script" the PM had laid out.

Following a speech outlining some of his ambitions for an "implementation period" immediately after the UK leaves the EU in March 2019, Mr Davis was asked about the row.

He said: "I'm in politics, people debate and they have different views and there is a diversity of views on this subject in all parties. That doesn't mean we can't have a coherent and forceful view in the interests of the United Kingdom."

He added: "There is no difference between the chancellor, and myself - and indeed the prime minister - in terms that we both want a Brexit which serves the British economy and which serves the British people. There will be arguments about the tactics but they will change - the options available to us will change throughout the negotiations.

"We want a good Brexit for British business and a good Brexit for the British people and we will deliver that on a frictionless access to the single market and political and economic freedom for us in the future."

Following rules

In his speech, Mr Davis said that the UK would be able to sign new trade deals in the "implementation" period - thought likely to last up to two years.

The UK would still effectively follow the rules of the EU customs union for the period immediately after Brexit and no trade deals could come into force until it ended.

But he said: "As an independent country - no longer a member of the European Union - the United Kingdom will once again have its own trading policy.

Media caption,
Hammond: I want maximum access to EU markets

"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 existing international agreements - which include trade deals with other countries and agreements on aviation and nuclear power - should continue to apply during the period.

The "immediate goal" in negotiations, he added, would be to secure political agreement on an implementation phase by March's European Council summit.

Analysis by BBC Reality Check correspondent Chris Morris

This speech comes three days before the other EU member states are due to publish their formal guidelines (their terms and conditions in other words) for negotiations on the nature of a transition period after Brexit.

Those negotiations are due to begin shortly, and Mr Davis is getting his response in first, as well as trying to address some of the political heat he's now feeling from Brexiteers.

That's why he used the term 'implementation' rather than 'transition' period throughout his speech - it suggests that the UK will be implementing the consequences of Brexit.

EU documents though always refer to a transition because other countries are convinced that negotiations on the future EU-UK relationship will not have been completed by the time the UK leaves.

As well as smoothing the path for business, they argue that a transition is necessary to allow negotiations on future relations to continue.

Failing to reach agreement would mean uncertainty for businesses, resulting in delayed investment and a "stifling of hard-won economic growth".

Mr Davis also stressed the need for an "appropriate process" to allow the UK to resolve any concerns about new EU laws introduced during the implementation phase which were against its interests.

The speech comes amid a row in his party over the government's approach to Brexit negotiations, following Mr Hammond's comments at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Thursday.

Downing Street distanced itself from his remarks although the prime minister's spokesman said on Friday she had full confidence in the chancellor.

'None the wiser'

Asked whether his comments had been destabilising for the prime minister, Mr Hammond told the BBC: "I think the context is important. I was speaking about our trade relationship with the EU, and it is the government's policy that we want to maintain the maximum possible access to markets and the minimum friction at our borders because that's good for the British economy."

But Eurosceptic Tory backbencher Bernard Jenkin told the BBC it would be easier for the PM if Mr Hammond and other cabinet ministers "stuck to her script" while Jacob Rees-Mogg said Mr Hammond "must have been affected by high mountain air" in the Swiss resort.

In response to Mr Davis's speech, Hilary Benn, Labour chairman of the Commons Brexit committee, said "what we really needed to hear is what the government's proposals are for the most important trade negotiation of all - with the European Union... On that, we are none the wiser"

And Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer said nothing Mr Davis had said "can mask or hide the bitter infighting that is going on in the government about what form Brexit should take".