David Davis to give trade deals pledge amid Brexit row

David DavisImage copyright EPA

David Davis will say the UK will be able to negotiate trade deals as soon as it leaves the EU, amid a Tory row over the UK’s approach to Brexit.

Chancellor Philip Hammond suggested on Thursday that changes to the UK-EU trade relations could be “very modest”.

No 10 distanced itself from his remarks and one Tory MP said he should “stick to the script” the PM had laid out.

Mr Davis will say that the UK will be able to sign new trade deals in the “transition” period after March 2019.

The UK is due to leave the European Union on 29 March 2019, after which the UK is expected to negotiate its own trade deals, rather than being part of the deals drawn up on behalf of all EU member states.

But a time-limited transitional or “implementation” period – thought likely to last up to two years – is expected to come into force first, before the terms of the UK’s ultimate relationship with the EU have been finalised.

Tories’ Brexit agonies resurface

By BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg

Image copyright PA

If the Tory party had wanted intentionally to display just how divided they are over Brexit and how generally twitchy they are, they could hardly have done a better job.

Not in off-the-cuff remarks but in scripted comments, one of the most convinced Brexit “softies” in the Cabinet, the chancellor himself, told delegates in Davos that he believed, hopefully, that the changes between the EU and UK economies would be “very modest”, as we leave the European bloc.

Meanwhile, the emboldened voice of backbench Brexiteers, Jacob Rees-Mogg, had prepared a speech of his own, accusing ministers of being cowed by the EU and calling for the government to stiffen its sinews in the Brexit talks or risk letting down voters and opting only for a “managed decline”.

Read more from Laura Kuenssberg’s blog here.

In a speech in Middlesbrough at 1430 GMT, Mr Davis will say that 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 ends.

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

“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 is also expected to say the UK wants to stay in the EU’s existing trade deals with other countries – although there is no guarantee Brussels will agree.

‘Context is important’

The speech comes amid a row in his party over the government’s approach to Brexit negotiations with influential Tory backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg accusing UK negotiators of being “cowed by the EU”.

Mr Hammond’s comments at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Thursday have also provoked a backlash.

The UK chancellor said the government was not seeking an “off-the-shelf” model to replace the membership of the EU single market and customs union.

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Media captionHammond: I want maximum access to EU markets

“We are taking two completely interconnected and aligned economies with high levels of trade between them and selectively moving them – hopefully very modestly – apart,” he said.

But a Downing Street spokesman said: “While we want a deep and special economic partnership with the EU after we leave, these could not be described as very modest changes.”

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, it’s good for British jobs and it’s good for British prosperity.”

‘Stick to script’

Eurosceptic Conservative backbenchers have lined up to criticise the chancellor.

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.

And former cabinet minister Owen Paterson told the BBC that Mr Hammond “appeared to be transmitting the standard Treasury view that this is all a nightmare, all a big mistake and it should be minimised”.

But former culture minister Ed Vaizey said he could not understand why the chancellor was being criticised.

“He was giving a speech to business leaders where he rightly wanted to assure them there was going to be a smooth Brexit,” he told the BBC’s Daily Politics.

“What is happening is that people like Philip Hammond… are putting forward practical ideas about how we implement Brexit and Brexiteers tour the TV studios saying it is outrageous but they won’t tell us what they actually want.”


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