Pro-EU Osborne Rips Plan to Quit Single Market as ‘Catastrophic’

  • Brexit backer Gove says U.K. must be `outside single market'
  • Former U.K. security chiefs say nation safer inside EU

U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said the plan by Brexit campaigners to also quit Europe’s single market would be “catastrophic” for the economy, as the two sides ratcheted up the rhetoric with less than seven weeks until a referendum on Britain’s European Union membership.

“That would be catastrophic for peoples’ jobs and their incomes and their livelihoods,” Osborne said on ITV television’s “Peston on Sunday” program. “Some people might think that wrecking the economy is a price worth paying. I absolutely reject that.”

He was referring to a comment made an hour earlier on the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show” by Justice Secretary Michael Gove, a leading Brexit campaigner.

“We should be outside the single market,” Gove said. “We should have access to the single market, but we should not be governed by the rules that the European Court of Justice imposes on us, which cost business and restrict freedom.”

The EU is a 28-nation bloc, all of whose members allow the free movement of people, goods and services within a single market that also grants access to Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland through separate agreements.

Osborne also flagged “emerging” analysis from the Treasury about the damage a Brexit may do to the U.K. housing market. “It’s already clear from the Treasury analysis that for example there would be a significant shock to the housing market, that would hit the value of people’s homes, that would hit the cost of mortgages,” he said in the ITV interview.

Conservative Divisions

With Thursday’s local and regional elections completed, the U.K.’s political focus will shift to the June 23 referendum, which Prime Minister David Cameron agreed to hold in part to pacify lawmakers within his Conservative party. The campaign has exposed divisions among the Tories, with Gove among a handful of cabinet ministers campaigning in opposition to their leader, who supports remaining in the bloc.

The referendum debate has raised speculation in the U.K. media that a “leave” vote or a narrow win for “remain” may lead to Cameron’s ouster as Tory leader and prime minister. Asked about his own ambitions, Osborne said he didn’t expect a leadership election until “the end of this decade.” That’s in line with Cameron’s already-stated plan not to stand for a third term of office at the next general election in 2020.

Two former U.K. intelligence chiefs on Sunday said the nation would be safer by remaining in the EU, because cooperating with 27 other member nations means Britain is better placed to tackle threats ranging from Islamic State terrorism to cyber-attacks by hostile governments.

‘Team Game’

“Counter-terrorism is a team game and the EU is the best framework available -- no country can succeed on its own,” former MI5 chief Jonathan Evans and the former head of MI6 John Sawers wrote in a Sunday Times commentary. MI5 is the domestic intelligence service, while MI6, now known as the Secret Intelligence Service, provides foreign intelligence.

On Sunday, appearing on the Marr program, Sawers said the commentary stemmed from a meeting he had with Evans in February, and wasn’t orchestrated by the government.

A vote to leave the EU would depress wages nationwide, especially in London, according to a study released Sunday by Frontier Economics for London First, a lobby group for businesses in the capital. It found that EU membership has on average increased U.K. salaries by 1,800 pounds ($2,600), with the boost to London incomes amounting to 3,100 pounds.
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“Our EU membership has helped Britain make a real difference to the size of people’s pay packets,” London First Campaign Director Will Higham said in a statement. “Throwing away our EU membership could harm exporters and would certainly make us less attractive to global companies seeking to invest in London. This would have a worrying knock-on effect on the rest of the country and there would be an inevitable downward effect on salaries.”

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