Rebel Tory MPs signalled today they would launch a new revolt aimed at keeping the UK inside a customs union with the EU.
Theresa May has ruled out the idea, insisting it would block the UK’s ability to strike independent trade deals with the rest of the world after Brexit.
Brexiteers claim agreements with the United States, Australia, New Zealand and others can outweigh any loss from leaving the EU’s trading zone.
Rebel ringleader Stephen Hammond today vowed to table amendments to draft laws that he said would Britain into the ‘safe harbour’ of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) while a more comprehensive free trade deal was thrashed out.
Rebel ringleader Stephen Hammond today vowed to table amendments to draft laws that he said would Britain into the ‘safe harbour’ of the European Free Trade Association
Joining EFTA would see the UK become part of a free trade area with Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
In theory membership would allow for continued access to the EU single market, but would also see an end to political integration and decisions made by unanimity – pleasing both Remainers and Brexiteers, MPs have said.
Mr Hammond argued in a Westminster Hall debate that joining EFTA did not stop the Government’s plan to negotiate a ‘deep and special bespoke arrangement with the EU’.
He said: ‘The clock is ticking… the chances are that we may end up with nothing at all or well below what the Government’s ambition is.
‘It seems to me the EFTA/EEA arrangement is an absolutely good place for the UK to start as we leave the EU.’
The MP for Wimbledon branded Brexit a time of ‘national crisis’, adding the EFTA approach would satisfy the ‘overwhelming majority’ of the British public and go a long way to healing the divisions.
Theresa May has ruled out any customs union after Brexit, insisting it would block the UK’s ability to strike independent trade deals with the rest of the world
Conservative MP James Cartlidge, speaking during a Westminster Hall debate on EFTA, said: ‘The Government proposal at the moment, even I as someone who campaigned to remain, is a vassal transition where we have absolutely no control whatsoever.’
The backbencher went on to say that EFTA offered ‘the best transition…to secure our long term future’.
He added: ‘If Carlsberg did off the shelf, last-minute Brexit deals that pleased everybody, it would look an awful lot like EEA EFTA.’
Fellow Tory MP Paul Masterton told ministers that EFTA did not have to be a ‘final destination’, but offered ‘a safe harbour, a staging point’ while a free trade agreement is formalised.
He added: ‘EFTA gives guarantees to those who voted leave that we’re implementing their democratic will to leave the European Union and if anything, it finds that sweet spot on reflecting the EU referendum result.’