UK may not strike free trade deals until years after Brexit
Britain may not be able to strike free trade deals with other countries until years after leaving the European Union, an international trade minister has suggested.
Greg Hands admitted it "remains to be seen" whether the UK can make agreements with countries immediately after Brexit, expected by March 29, 2019, despite it being a key plank of Theresa May's strategy.
A transitional deal is likely to be required to avoid a "cliff edge" for businesses.
But Mr Hands could not say when the UK would be free to strike trade deals, suggesting the issue could form part of negotiations over new trading arrangements with the EU.
Put to him that it was unclear whether the UK could strike trade deals after March 2019, he said: "Once we have left the European Union and we have left the customs union, we have come to a customs arrangement with the European Union, yes, we will be able to make our free trade deals, but at the moment we can't because we're still in the European Union."
Asked if Britain could still strike free trade deals in a transitional period, Mr Hands said: "That remains to be seen, we don't yet know. We have only just started the negotiation."
Mr Hands said he could not discuss at what point a transition period may end or begin or even if there would be such an arrangement, adding: "What we are clear about is there should be no cliff edge for businesses in the UK and the European Union and to make sure that trade continues as frictionless as possible."
Meanwhile, Britain's shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth has said there was "no appetite" for a second referendum on Brexit. It comes after Labour splits re-emerged on Brexit in parliament, with nearly 50 of its MPs defying the party whip to support an amendment calling on the UK to stay in the European single market.
Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Owen Smith, who has backed holding a second EU referendum, said he still believed Brexit was "a bad decision".