The Brexit transition period is not a “magical figure” and could be extended beyond the end of December 2020, Andrea Leadsom has said.
In an interview with HuffPost UK ahead of Friday’s crunch Cabinet meeting at Chequers, the pro-Brexit leader of the Commons said the date “remains under review”.
Asked if she was open to the transition period being extended, Leadsom said: “I think the issue of the implementation period is it’s there designed to enable businesses to have a bit more continuity, a bit more time to prepare and of course for government to have time to make sure all systems to accommodate the new arrangements are actually in place.
“What’s been agreed is the end of December 2020. And it’s not a magical figure, a magical date. It’s just what has been agreed with the EU.
“I personally think it should be long enough. That’s my view. It’s fine as it is. We don’t need for any particular reason to extend it.
“But I think it remains under review. As all sides make very clear, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”
Both Greg Clark, the Business Secretary, and the International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, have said the same.
But over 30 Tory backbenchers have written to the prime minister today to demand the transition deal end as planned at the end of 2020.
Leadsom, who campaigned vigorously for ‘Leave’ at the referendum, said demands businesses kept quiet about Brexit were wrong.
“Of course they should and will. They should speak out and they will speak out,” she said.
“Nevertheless I also think it’s really important that businesses who are wanting to continue to trade with the EU are also making their views clear in Europe. It’s a two sided negotiation.”
Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, was reported to have said “fuck business” when corporate concerns about a so-called hard Brexit were raised with him.
And Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said it was “completely inappropriate” for Airbus to warn of thousands of job losses.
The prime minister will convene her Cabinet on Friday at Chequers to thrash out an agreement on Brexit amid fierce internal arguments and reported plots against her leadership.
Leadsom downplayed the significance of the infighting. “I think collective responsibility is taken very seriously,” she said.
“I think the issue is at the moment is there is a very close scrutinisation of any nuances of difference,” she said.
“Dare I say that possibly what would be a normal kind of difference of views that we might naturally have is being made into something absolutely massive which I think most of the time is slightly exaggerating the reality.”
Leadsom has previously branded May’s plans for a customs partnership with the EU as “bureaucratic, unwieldy and impractical”.
Brexiteers favour the so-called “max fac” alternative that would use technology to minimise the need for customs checks,
Leadsom told HuffPost UK the meeting of the entire Cabinet was a chance to “get all of the arguments on all sides out there and to come to a conclusion”.
“The reality of government is we are all very busy day-to-day and often the discussions about very deeply held views on things there isn’t the time and space to do that. I think that Cabinet meeting will offer that which is a good thing.
“All the country has strong views. Certainly under collective responsibility I think its really healthy that the whole cabinet gets the chance to share views.”
Leadsom was speaking after promoting democratic participation with community organising group Citizens UK in London.
Asked if she believed Brexit had helped spur more people to take part in British politics, she said: “I think as ever with a big change like Brexit, it’s awakened people’s interest in politics.
“I think people will always do have an interest in policy areas, but Brexit is certainly got people talking and thinking and so probably more engaged than they would otherwise be.”
Over tea and cakes at the EqualiTEA branded event in London, Leadsom listened to advocates for women’s rights and Muslim Britons.
In her speech to the event, Leadsom said she was inspired by the Suffragette and Suffragists “whose restless determination led to real change”.
“We are gathered here for a EqualiTEA event,” she said. “A very civilised cup of tea. And that is exactly as it should be because for Suffragettes and Suffragists, tea was all about plotting.
“They were in their prim and proper hats and corsets and lace-up dresses, sitting upright sipping tea while plotting how to get the vote.
Leadsom added: “They refused to accept the status-quo and they put all their effort into building a democracy they wanted to see. Their strength of purpose should inspire all of us.”