17.08.2016

Brexit talk:  Ministers warn Britain could remain in the EU until 2019

Brexit talk:  Ministers warn Britain could remain in the EU until 2019

Downing street is upping the pressure on ministers to begin implementing plans to leave the EU, it was reported this week.

Accusing Liam Fox – one of three cabinet ministers put in charge of overseeing Britain’s withdrawal from the EU – of ‘playing games’, Theresa May has made her position on government in-fighting clear. Such comments come as City sources claim that Britain’s exit from the EU is already looking likely to take place at least a year after first envisaged.

With government insiders talking of ‘chaos’ amongst the two new departments involved in overseeing Brexit, some believe that initial timelines are already well out of scope, and could be delayed even further if action is not taken soon. Indeed, murmurs about undermining public confidence have already started to surface from Tory backbench Eurosceptics.

However, Number 10 has dismissed talk of hesitation or departmental disarray as nonsensical, with Theresa May sending a clear message to press and public alike that Brexit is very much still ‘full steam ahead’. As things currently stand, the government looks set to trigger Article 50 – which will formally start the process for Britain’s departure from the EU – at the start of 2017. A Downing Street source said: ‘Everyone has a view on Article 50 and timetables. The Prime Minister has set up departments to implement Brexit and they need to get their ducks in a row – but we are looking at early next year. That is what the Prime Minister has told leaders of other EU countries. There is no indication that it is going to go further than that. We know that Brexit means Brexit and that we have to get on with it. It is full steam ahead.’

How this sits with senior banking figures – many of whom at June’s Annual Retail Banking Conference said they ‘welcomed the government’s decision not to invoke Article 50 with immediate effect – is still to be seen.

We do welcome the government’s decision not to invoke article 50 for now, as we do need time to plan for a stable and orderly transition for the banking sector. -Noreen Doyle, Chair BBA Invoking article 50 will simply accelerate decisions that might otherwise have taken a decade. -Justin Bisseker, Pan-European Banks Analyst Schroders

With reports of playground power struggles between the so-called ‘three Brexiteers’ – Dr Fox, Mr Johnson and the Secretary for Exiting the EU, David Davis – Whitehall officials have apparently been braced for tension. In a leaked letter to Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox effectively demanded the break-up of the Foreign Office in order to pass certain key responsibilities to his new department. Mrs May was swift to react to Mr Fox’s demands, wading in from her holiday in Switzerland to quash any rumour of such a shakeup and telling Mr Fox to ‘stop playing games’ and get on with the job in hand.

Naturally, such bickering has done little for the public’s perception of the key government figures trusted with the delicate and lengthy task of facilitating our departure from the EU.

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On Tuesday it was also reported that Euro-sceptic Tories are already starting to fear that the government is shying away from its commitment to get Britain out of the EU – heading instead for what has been widely referred to as ‘Brexit Lite’. Plans are now thought to be in the pipeline for two cross-party groups to pressure the government into committing to a strict, public timeline for leaving. However, ministers are keen to be see to be erring on the side of caution for good reason, insisting that the potentially extended timeline is the best interests for allowing comprehensive negotiations before the departure is formalised.

As far as more clues to post-Brexit conditions, each week seems to bring new developments. Last weekend, Chancellor Philip Hammond announced that the billions of pounds of funding that currently comes from the EU to support farmers, scientists and other projects will now be provided by the Treasury. Estimated at a cost of close to £6billion a year, the Treasury is set to guarantee continued funding for EU-backed schemes signed before this year’s Autumn Statement – meaning relative business as usual for a number of areas previously expected to take a hit.

Indeed, confidence certainly seems to be on the up since an initially hesitant period in the immediate wake of June’s referendum. Perhaps it is testament to national confidence that, for now at least, Britain is not allowing a political shock to become an economic one.

Read more about Brexit and the recent Westminster ‘doom-mongering’ here.

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