LIAM Fox, the International Trade Secretary, has signalled that a transitional deal following Britain's departure from the European Union could last three years until 2022.

The Scot has previously said he would be happy with interim measures that lasted only a "few months" but he has now made clear that he believes it should be wrapped up by the next general election.

Dr Fox's shift will be seen as a triumph for Chancellor Philip Hammond, who has been championing a transitional period of at least two years within Cabinet to avoid a cliff-edge, which many business leaders have feared.

Anna Soubry, the former Business minister and a leading light among Remainers during the EU referendum campaign, claimed the hard-line Brexiteers realised their "game is up" and that a softer departure from the Brussels bloc was necessary.

The development came as Jeremy Corbyn admitted Labour still did not have a clear position on whether or not the UK should remain part of the customs union.

The Trade Secretary said the time it took Britain to quit was "not a huge deal" but he believed people did not want it "dragging on".

He told BBC One's Andrew Marr Show: "Having waited for over 40 years to leave the European Union, 24 months would be a rounding error. It's not a huge deal and neither is it an ideological one.

"We would want to get it out of the way before the election; I don't think people would want to have it dragging on."

His Tory colleague, Ms Soubry, claimed everything had changed since the General Election.

“We’re leaving the EU - nothing has changed on that - but the terms and the deal we get, the rhetoric we now use on that end deal, has completely changed. The Prime Minister has to build a consensus.

“What has happened is the hard-line Brexiteers have realised their game is up, thank goodness for that, but also now we understand all members of the Cabinet accept there will be a transitional period.”

Ms Soubry referred to membership of the European Free Trade Association and the “Norwegian safe harbour” option as Britain would “then get a proper deal with the EU and eventually we go into that”.

Asked if the cut-off point of the transitional period should, as Dr Fox suggested, be at the next election, she replied: “It should be as long as it takes for British business to get what they want. We have to put the economy and jobs at the heart of Brexit.”

Meanwhile, Mr Corbyn said Labour had not decided yet if Britain should remain in the customs union, which prevents the country signing its own trade deals.

He told Marr: "The single market is dependent on membership of the EU. What we have said all along is that we want a tariff free trade access to the European market and a partnership with Europe in the future.

"The two things are inextricably linked, so the question then is the kind of trade relationship of the future and we have made it very clear we want a tariff free trade access with the European market.

"We haven't jumped on either side of that fence but, again, the customs union is part of the European Union."

Elsewhere, Sir Vince Cable, the new Liberal Democrat leader, revealed he had been in talks with members of the Shadow Cabinet and Conservative backbenchers over the way the UK was being taken out of the EU.

Asked if he had held discussions with Labour MPs over stopping or changing Brexit, he told Sky News: "Yes and Conservative MPs too...indeed, yes, members of the Shadow Cabinet and Conservatives, mainly backbenchers."

Sir Vince said Labour MPs were being "intimidated" and told to "toe the line or else".

In a separate development, Boris Johnson will push for progress on a post-Brexit trade deal with New Zealand when he lands in Wellington for talks with the country’s Prime Minister.

The Foreign Secretary is on the latest leg of a nine-day international tour that will see him head to Australia next.

Both countries are viewed as key allies by the Government and Mr Johnson was, according to Whitehall sources, "keen to see deals taking shape".

Working groups have been set up to thrash out the details of future deals with each nation and the progress made so far will be set out during the visits.

Today, Mr Johnson is due to meet Bill English, New Zealand's premier, and Gerry Brownlee, the country's foreign minister, before flying to Australia for talks with counterpart Julie Bishop.

It follows a three-day trip to Japan that left Mr Johnson predicting the UK was poised for an "all-singing, all-dancing" post-Brexit free trade deal with the nation.