Speaking at the Confederation for British Industry’s (CBI) annual conference in central London, the Prime Minister was grilled over an apparent call from the group’s president Paul Drechsler for a stopgap arrangement with Brussels.
Asked whether she would back a transitional period between the end of Article 50 negotiations and a permanent new relationship between the UK and the EU, Mrs May said: “Obviously as we look at the negotiation, we want to get the arrangement that is going to work best for the UK and the arrangement that’s going to work best for business in the UK.
“And I’m conscious there will be issues that will need to be looked at. I understand the point that Paul’s made, others have made this point.
“People don’t want a cliff edge, they want to know with some certainty how things are going to go forward.
“That will be part of the work that we do in terms of the negotiation that we’re undertaking with the EU.”
Mrs May repeated her vow to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty – the legal mechanism for leaving the EU – by the end of March next year, which would put Britain on course to quit the bloc in April 2019.
Prominent Tory MP Steve Baker, a leading Brexiteer, backed a transitional arrangement between Britain and the EU once Article 50 talks are concluded.
He told Express.co.uk: “I’m in favour of transitional arrangement. A withdrawal agreement should put in place mutually-beneficial arrangements.
“But it must come to an end when we move into a new bi-lateral free trade deal. It should be time limited.”
The Wycombe MP also warned an interim withdrawal deal “must meet public expectations for Brexit” by ending the jurisdiction of EU judges, returning immigration controls and allowing Britain to strike trade deals with the rest of the world.
Mr Baker also urged the Prime Minister to ignore a potential plot by Remainers to push Britain into a temporary Norway-style deal through membership of the European Economic Area (EEA), which he branded a “fake Brexit”.
He added: “I don’t doubt there will be a campaign to keep us in EU’s Single Market. That would be a fake Brexit, we need an honest Brexit.
“But we will have an honest Brexit if what the Prime Minister has already committed to is delivered.”
Mrs May has consistently pledged to end the power of the European Court of Justice over Britain and end the EU’s freedom of movement rules.
She has also charged International Trade Secretary Liam Fox with scoping future free trade deals around the world.
But the suggestion of a transitional EU exit deal angered other Brexiteers.
Richard Tice, co-chair of the Leave Means Leave pressure group, said: “The Prime Minister made a number of positive points in her speech to the CBI about a post-Brexit Britain while rightly not giving away her negotiating hand.
“Businesses want certainty as soon as possible, which is why Britain must leave the EU within a maximum period of two years after triggering Article 50 – no EU deal is better than a bad deal – and leaving the Single Market and Customs Union as soon as possible are key to enabling the UK to take the opportunities provided by Brexit.
“A transitional deal will fuel more uncertainty and leave Britain in limbo. British voters have made it clear that they want to leave the EU and the Government must deliver on this in full and at the soonest opportunity – two years after triggering Article 50, or sooner if the EU fails to negotiate.”
In her CBI speech this morning, the Prime Minister outlined her vision for Britain to be the “true global champion of free trade”.
Challenging business leaders to grasp “Britain’s historic global opportunity”, Mrs May said: “I want to ask you to work with me to show that the forces of capitalism, globalisation and free trade offer the best hope to the problems facing so many people in our country.
“I want you to help me show those who feel let down, left behind or marginalised that we can respond. We can change.
“And that together, we can meet this great national moment with a great national effort to seize the opportunities ahead and build a stronger, fairer Britain – a country that works for everyone.”
The Prime Minister was speaking ahead of Wednesday’s Autumn Statement, the first major budgetary event of her Government.
Mrs May revealed Chancellor Philip Hammond will use the mini-budget to “lay out an agenda that is ambitious for business and ambitious for Britain”.
As she denied her Government had an “anti-business” agenda, Mrs May appeared to backtack from an earlier promise to put workers on company boards.
Earlier Mr Drechsler had used his own speech to remind the Government of its “responsibility to keep uncertainty to a minimum”.
He said: “For many firms, it’s not about a hard Brexit or a soft Brexit but a smooth Brexit which avoids these cliff-edge problems.
“The Government should build on the positive moves it has already made to dispel uncertainty by drawing up plans for a smooth transition.”
Asked if the Prime Minister was considering an transitional Brexit deal, the Prime Minister’s spokeswoman said: “She is reflecting the views that we have expressed already about how do we secure the best deal for the UK and how do we seek to provide certainty where we can to businesses and people across the UK of the steps moving forward.
“There are whole range of issues that are being worked through as we prepare for the negotiations with the focus on how we get the best deal for the UK. There is a whole range work going on.”
Labour MP Pat McFadden, a leading supporter of the Open Britain group – formed from the Remain campaign – said: “It is good that the Prime Minister understands the dangers of a cliff edge for the economy during the Brexit negotiations.
“Some within her party seem to be pushing for a hard Brexit whatever the economic consequences.
“However, without a transitional agreement between leaving and agreeing the future arrangements, the danger is that the UK would fall out of the single market and customs union, incurring tariffs for our manufacturing industry, losing passporting rights for our financial services, and posing threats to our agriculture.
“None of that is good for jobs or living standards.
“A transitional agreement is therefore vital, but we need much more clarity about what the Government is aiming for. With the Chancellor warning of the dangers of uncertainty, continuing with vagueness is simply going to make it harder for investors and job creators.”
November 21st, Express