The UK could remain in key elements of the EU beyond the end of 2020 through an extension of the planned Brexit transition period, a top minister has suggested.
Business Secretary Greg Clark claimed the government would need to be “guided by the evidence” when it comes to determining the point Britain moves away from the status quo of EU membership.
In March, the UK and EU reached an agreement on the terms of the transition period, which is due to last from Brexit day on 29 March 2019 until 31 December 2020.
However, Mr Clark left the door open to extending that period.
Speaking to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday show on a visit to the Port of Dover, Mr Clark said: “At all times we need to be guided by the evidence on this.
“Speaking to the people that run this very successful port… in order to make sure that we can continue the success, and that we don’t have frictions, there are things that would need to put in place.
“Computer systems, for example, posts at the border, even if they checked number plates.
“What we need to assess is how long it would reasonablly take to put in practice and then it seems to me that any reasonable person would have to be guided by the facts and the evidence.”
Image: Theresa May is facing a new split in Tory ranks over Brexit policy
Mr Clark, who backed Remain at the EU referendum, pointed to how Brexiteer cabinet minister Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, had also recently said he would be prepared to accept an extension to the transition period.
However, Theresa May has come under pressure from other Brexiteers within her party, with more than 30 Tory MPs signing a letter calling on the prime minister to “stand firm” and “demonstrate courage and leadership” in the face of those seeking to reverse Brexit.
The letter said that in order to “uphold our promise to the British people, after our formal departure on the 29 March 2019, we will not accept an extension of the transition period beyond 31 December 2020”.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday show he believed the transition period would be extended, adding he would be happy with such a move.
“At the moment it’s not set in stone, [the talk has been that it will be] around two years,” he said.
“I’ve got a feeling it might go beyond that.”
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Mrs May had originally outlined plans for a two-year Brexit transition period after the UK formally leaves the bloc in 2019, but that was cut to 21 months to coincide with the last day of the current EU budget.
The emergence of a fresh split in Conservative ranks over the issue of extending the transition period came as senior Tory backbencher Sir Graham Brady made a plea for unity.
Sir Graham, who chairs the party’s influential 1922 Committee, warned continued infighting within the cabinet could put at risk the UK agreeing a good Brexit deal.
Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary James Brokenshire insisted on the BBC he was “confident” ministers could reach an agreement on Friday, when Mrs May will gather her cabinet at her Chequers country retreat in order to thrash out their plan for Britain’s future relationship with the EU.
Sir Graham’s plea came amid reports up to 20 Tory MPs are preparing to run for the Conservative leadership if Mrs May falls from power, with some said to be actively recruiting supporters.
A survey of Conservative members on who should be the party’s next leader, conducted by the ConservativeHome website, revealed new Home Secretary Sajid Javid had this month topped the standings for the first time.
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