Liam Fox says free movement post-Brexit defies referendum result

Liam Fox says free movement post-Brexit defies referendum result

International trade secretary says cabinet is not agreed on nature of transition deal

Liam Fox has denied that freedom of movement between the UK and the EU will in effect continue during a transition period after Brexit, saying he has “not been party” to any such agreement between his colleagues in the cabinet.

The international trade secretary told the Sunday Times that allowing EU and UK citizens to move freely within the bloc after Brexit would “not keep faith” with the result of the Brexit referendum.

“If there have been discussions on that, I have not been party to them. I have not been involved in any discussions on that,” he said.

Mr Fox added that continuing the spirit of free movement would be an affront to those who voted to leave the EU. “We made it clear that control of our own borders was one of the elements we wanted in the referendum, and unregulated free movement would seem to me not to keep faith with that decision,” he told the Sunday Times.

The intervention appeared to contradict comments from Philip Hammond, the chancellor, who said last week there was “broad acceptance” in cabinet of a post-Brexit transition period lasting up to three years.

In signs of an intensifying cabinet row over the issue, the Telegraph reported on Sunday that allies of the chancellor had accused Mr Fox of living in a “fantasy land” about the post-Brexit deal. An aide to Mr Hammond refused to comment on the tensions between ministers over the nature of the transition agreement.

Setting out his position last week, Mr Hammond said the transition would mean “many arrangements remaining very similar to how they were the day before we exited the European Union”, including a continuation of free movement in all but name, since EU citizens would still be able to enter the UK as long as they registered.

Mr Hammond spoke after the Financial Times reported he had told business leaders that he was seeking an “off-the-shelf” transition deal, under which companies would have full access to the EU single market and customs union, followed by a further “implementation phase”, while a new UK-specific trade agreement is put in place.

Even Eurosceptic ministers have come to accept that Britain will need some transitional measures to avoid a “cliff edge” when the UK leaves the EU, but the details of the phased exit is still a cause of division.

“All this agitation by the chancellor and his allies is hugely discourteous to her and undermines her authority,” Mr Jones said in the Mail on Sunday.

Meanwhile, there were also signs of deepening disagreement within the Labour party over the nature of the deal with Brussels, as it was reported that Jeremy Corbyn is under pressure from senior figures in the party to embrace a softer Brexit plan.

According to the Observer, Labour insiders including the former leader Neil Kinnock and former shadow justice secretary Charlie Falconer are in favour of retaining the UK’s membership of the single market. Other senior figures are also said to be looking at whether they can force an emergency vote at Labour’s conference this autumn in which they support continued single market membership.