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Liam Fox prepared to accept a longer Brexit transition period

10:38 am, 24th June 2018

The international trade secretary told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday that having waited 40 years for the UK to leave the EU, a few more months was not going to “bother” him.

His fellow Brexit campaigner Boris Johnson has urged Theresa May to deliver “full British Brexit” and said the public want politicians to get on with the process.

On Saturday – the second anniversary of the referendum to leave the EU – tens of thousands of people marched through central London to demand a vote on the final Brexit deal.

Mrs May’s former chief of staff is among those who have suggested the transition period after Brexit should be extended beyond 2020 in order to solve Cabinet indecision on customs arrangements.

Nick Timothy urged Leave-supporting ministers to accept staying within EU frameworks for longer because arguments are continuing to rage about which of two customs options to choose.

Government sources told The Times that Mrs May is set to ask the EU for another two years of transition – extending the period before full Brexit to seven years after the public voted for it.

Mr Fox told Sky News: “What I wanted was that we were outside of the single market and the customs union and outside the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

“That’s where I think we’re going to end up. If we do it slightly more slowly in order to minimise any disruption that’s fine by me.

“Having waited 40-odd years to leave the European Union, a few extra months doesn’t bother me if we’re getting it right.”

He said an extension to the Article 50 period – which is set at two years by EU statute – would not be “politically acceptable” to him, but he refused to be drawn on whether he would resign if it did happen.

But he said he would not have an issue with an extension to the transition period, which the government has said will end on 31 December, 2020, as there may be reasons why it is inevitable.

Mr Fox added: “To keep Britain in the European Union would not be politically acceptable. It would not be acceptable to me.

“If the transition period had to be extended for technical reasons… if, for example, one other country was unable to ratify the agreement or we didn’t have technical means in place and we already had the withdrawal agreement and the future economic partnership already agreed, I wouldn’t have a major problem with that, 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.”

Extending the transition period has the potential to reduce the possibility the UK would crash out of the EU without a deal – something some major companies have said would be unacceptable.

Airbus, which employs 14,000 in the UK directly and is linked to 110,000 other jobs at suppliers, says a no-deal scenario would cause “chaos at the borders”.

The two customs arrangements the Cabinet are said to be arguing over – both of which may be unacceptable to the EU – are: a customs partnership with the EU, which would see the collection of Brussels-decided tariffs at the UK border; and a “max fac” (maximum facilitation) option, which relies on technology and a “trusted trader” plan to reduce post-Brexit customs checks.

:: Sophy Ridge on Sunday, which features the full interview with Liam Fox, is on Sky News at 10am.