Property developer Richard Tice and former British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) chief John Longworth said agreeing to the EU’s demands would “allow Brussels to stop the UK from benefiting from the economic opportunities of Brexit”.
In a joint statement the pair, who both backed Brexit during the referendum and run the Leave Means Leave campaign group, warned of the risk that a transitional deal will become a “permanent halfway house”.
Most senior politicians in both Britain and Brussels believe that there will need to be some stop-gap measure to stop a cliff-edge when the UK leave in 2019, but there are disagreements over what form it should take.
Remain backing ministers, and in particular the chancellor Philip Hammond, are pushing for a three year measure during which Britain will effectively continue to accept EU rules and regulations.
But others, such as the trade secretary Liam Fox, believe any transitional deal must be strictly time limited and cannot contain any clauses that prevent the UK from carving out its new place in the world.
On Labour’s side veteran eurosceptic Jeremy Corbyn has been intentionally ambiguous but several party heavyweights, including shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keri Starmer, have called for continued Single Market membership.
In Brussels, EU officials think there is no way a new economic partnership can be thrashed out before March 2019 and believe the UK will accept a transitional deal including free movement and ECJ oversight.
But in their joint statement today Mr Tice and Mr Longworth urged the Government not to cave into any EU demands that will limit the country’s newfound ability to trade around the globe.
They said: “The Government’s proposal for a transitional customs arrangement are more like a tunnel with only a dim light at the end, rather than a springboard to grasp future opportunities.
“It is not clear what lies on the other side or how long we are to be left in limbo. Britain should not be limited to just negotiating trade deals with the rest of the world during the transitional period – we must be able to implement them.
“Brexit gives the UK the chance to rebalance the economy – we cannot allow Brussels to stop the UK from benefiting from the economic opportunities of Brexit.
“The risk with a transition period is that it becomes a permanent halfway house. The Government must keep any transitional deal as short as possible.”
The pair warned that a “lengthy” transitional period, as being urged by Remain backing groups like the CBI, would only serve to “bring uncertainty to British business and damage our morale”.
Instead they said the Government should pursue a clean break with Brussels and have confidence that innovative UK companies would cope with the changes and look outwards to the rest of the world.
However, whilst criticising Theresa May’s transition plans they also praised her announcement that Britain has no plans to pull up the drawbridge to talent from across the globe after Brexit.
They welcomed ministers’ announcement that they will keep visa-free travel and introduce a liberal work permit system for EU citizens once the country has left as a “step in the right direction”.
August 18th, 2017: Express