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27 July 2017

Why rows over a possible Brexit transition deal are far from over

Government policies are a bit like London buses – another will be along soon.

By Stephen Bush

Good news! Amber Rudd has said there will be “no cliff edge” when Britain leaves the EU in an article for the FT. Bad news! Brandon Lewis, the minister of state for immigration, has told the Today programme that freedom of movement will end on 31 March 2019 when the Article 50 process reaches its end, which effectively rules out any transition deal.

Government policy is a bit like a bus in London: there’s no point getting too het up about this one, as another will be along in a minute or so. In this instance, the division may say more about the difficulties of live radio than anything else – the consensus in the government is that there will be a transition period, with the disagreement over length.  

Other disagreements, including this week’s row over chlorinated chicken, run deeper. The relief of the recess for the government is that Conservative MPs can’t get together and plot, and ministers can take vital foreign trips without the risk of a tricky vote in the Commons. But it also means that deciding lines to take is harder, and that the PM is both away and weakened means that final decisions take longer to reach.

When the subject of the row is the condition of poultry in the height of summer, that doesn’t matter so much. When it’s high policy and everyone is paying attention, it matters a great deal.

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