Philip Hammond has said he is “confident” businesses will be given the Brexit certainty they need although he sidestepped calls to ensure transition principles are guaranteed by Christmas. The UK Chancellor acknowledged the principles of a transition period are “urgent and pressing”, also telling MPs the Government wants them agreed with the European Union “as soon as possible”.
Labour’s John McDonnell urged Mr Hammond to “face down” his opponents in Cabinet and state he will not support or vote for a no deal Brexit.
The shadow chancellor also challenged his counterpart to “stand up to the reckless Brexiteers” in the Conservatives and reassure businesses that the principles of any transition will be confirmed by the end of the year.
Hammond’s comments came after Theresa May told MPs there could be no transition period after Britain leaves the EU unless there was agreement on a trade deal. In a Commons statement on Monday, the Prime Minister said she remained confident that a deal was possible following the latest EU summit last week in Brussels.
Speaking during Treasury questions, MP McDonnell said Hammond’s earlier responses to MPs over the prospect of a deal had been crushingly disappointing and that expressions of hope over an agreement were not good enough.
He said: “The Chancellor knows the economic perils our country faces if there’s no deal. He described it rightfully as a worst-case scenario.
“Can I urge him, in the interests of our country, to have the courage of his convictions, stand up and face down his opponents in Cabinet and confirm today that like us he will not support or vote for a no deal Brexit.”
Hammond said the UK’s clear objective and priority is to achieve a deal with the EU, adding: “Our preference would be for a deal that gives a comprehensive trade, investment and security partnership between the UK and the European Union in the future.
“As part of such a deal, we will seek an implementation phase that gives British businesses and indeed Government agencies proper time to prepare for the new circumstances they will face.”
McDonnell said: “If he cannot stand up to his opponents on a no deal Brexit, can he at least stand up to them on the issue of the transition period?”
The Labour frontbencher said business leaders had made clear “they need the certainty now” and he accused the PM of having sowed more confusion over the transition period.
McDonnell went on: “Businesses cannot wait, they need to plan now. Jobs are in jeopardy now. “If the Prime Minister is not willing to stand up to the reckless Brexiteers in her party, will the Chancellor?
Hammond replied: “You are correct to say this matter is urgent and pressing and that’s why we were so pleased that last week at the European Council the 27 agreed to start internal preparatory discussions in relation to an implementation period.
“I am confident we will be able to give businesses the confidence and certainty they need.”