U.K. Cabinet Cracks Appear as May Seeks to Negotiate Brexit Deal

(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Theresa May’s office tried to downplay a row between her most senior officials over whether Britain should have a transition period as it leaves the European Union, as tensions over Brexit policy emerged.

Brexit Secretary David Davis accused Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond of taking inconsistent positions on whether the U.K. should seek a bridging deal, which could mean remaining in the customs union for years after Britain’s due to quit.

Euroskeptic Davis insisted the U.K. was likely to quit the customs union on the first day of Brexit in March 2019. But speaking in Germany on Monday, Hammond restated his view that a lengthier transition period would be required to help businesses avoid a cliff-edge shift in their trading arrangements.

Speaking at a conference organized by The Times of London on Monday, Davis described Hammond’s record of comments on the potential timescale for Brexit as “not quite consistent with one another.”

“What he’s actually said, the most important thing is it’s got to be done before the election so that’s a maximum of three years,” Davis added, insisting the two ministers were “entirely aligned” in their thinking on the length of any transition.

May’s spokeswoman Alison Donnelly was asked to explain which minister was correctly stating the government’s policy. She told reporters in London that the U.K. will be leaving the customs union but the details of any transition period would be decided in the negotiation with the European Union.