Tory remainers push for extended transition period as “war cabinet” fail to reach agreement

Greg Clark on BBC One's Marr Show on Sunday morning. Photograph: Jeff Overs/PA/BBC.

Greg Clark on BBC One's Marr Show on Sunday morning. Photograph: Jeff Overs/PA/BBC. - Credit: PA

Business Secretary Greg Clark has opened the door to extending a transition period on customs with the EU, after it was revealed Theresa May's 'war cabinet' on Brexit had failed to reach agreement on the matter.

Clark said it could be a case of implementing a new customs arrangement 'as soon as you can do', as he highlighted the threat to potentially thousands of jobs of additional border checks.

He was backed by former home secretary Amber Rudd, who said Mr Clark was right to argue the case 'for a Brexit that protects existing jobs and future investment'.

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However, Jacob Rees-Mogg warned the customs partnership model would effectively mean remaining in the European Union.

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It was said at the 'war cabinet' meeting earlier in the week Clark was reportedly close to tears, as he urged colleagues to consider the potential job losses of a bad deal on customs.

Speaking on BBC One's Andrew Marr Show, the Business Secretary said it would take some time for new customs arrangements to be put in place, saying it was 'possible' it may take until 2023 to put new infrastructure in place.

He added: 'So what I'm suggesting is as part of the work over the next few weeks, I think it would be a mistake to move from one situation to another to a third.

'If we can make progress as to what, which I think we can, as to what the right arrangement is for the long term, then it may be possible to bring that in over that period of time.'

Asked if the transition could be extended until Britain was ready, he said: 'It wouldn't be a question of extending the transition. It would be, as it were, implementing as soon as you can do... there will be different parts that can be done immediately. There will be things that will take more time.'

Clark cited the example of Toyota, saying it was making major decisions about future production and there were fears over how the firm's 'just in time' manufacturing model would operate with customs checks.

The company employs 3,500 people in the UK, the business secretary said, adding that jobs had to be at the forefront of Britain's future customs model.

Business groups the British Chambers of Commerce and the CBI welcomed the comments, saying it was important to maintain the status quo on frictionless trade until a new arrangement is in place.

Amber Rudd signalled support for the position, writing on Twitter: '@GregClarkMP quite right, making the case clearly and yes, passionately, for a Brexit that protects existing jobs and future investment.'

However, Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the European Research Group of Tory MPs, dismissed the warnings about the impact of rejecting the customs partnership.

He told ITV's Peston On Sunday: 'This Project Fear has been so thoroughly discredited that you would have thought it would have come to an end by now.

'We trade successfully all over the world. The delays on goods coming into Southampton are tiny.

'We will have control of goods coming into this country - we will set our own laws, our own policies, our own regulations, and therefore we will determine how efficient the border is coming into us.'

He added it would be 'odd' for the Prime Minister to back a policy that effectively breached her commitment on leaving both the customs union and single market.

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