Hammond: UK not yet ready for Brexit negotiations

Britain's Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond © Peter Nicholls
Britain is not yet in a position to trigger Article 50 and begin “substantive negotiations” on leaving the European Union, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday.

In the wake of last month’s vote to leave the bloc, the European Parliament has been pushing the UK to start the legal process for withdrawal “as soon as possible.”

“For the moment we are not in a position to begin substantive negotiations and therefore it would be unwise to start the process ticking by triggering Article 50,” said Hammond, a ‘Remain’ supporter in the June 23 referendum.

Hammond added that it wouldn’t be in the country’s best interests to trigger Article 50 immediately.

The foreign secretary told the committee it would be “unwise” to invoke the withdrawal process until Prime Minister David Cameron’s successor at 10 Downing Street has been selected. Cameron’s replacement as Conservative Party leader could be in place by September.

“The decision to leave was a clear decision. The government’s job is to minimize the damage to our economy and our future.”

Stressing that leaving the EU doesn’t have to be “a disaster,” he said what matters is how we respond to the “negative first round effects” of a Brexit. The UK must be willing to have an honest discussion about trade-offs.

“The job for government now is not to dwell on what might have been but to find the best route forward for the UK.”

Hammond told lawmakers he hopes an early agreement on reciprocal residency rights for EU citizens in Britain and Britons living in the EU can be reached.

“We recognize the contribution that they’ve made. They are vital to the success of our economy,” he said.

Earlier this week, the foreign secretary said at the moment it would be “absurd to make a unilateral commitment about EU nationals living in the UK without, at the very least, getting a similar commitment from the European Union about British nationals living in the EU.”

Citing Norway’s relationship with the UK, Hammond told MPs the UK must continue to maintain a “close alignment” on defense and security matters with EU member states.

“We will have to pedal a bit faster to make sure that our voice is heard and our influence still counts,” he said.