U.K. Referendum Losers Launch Campaign for Not-Quite-Brexit

  • ‘Open Britain’ backs single-market membership and immigration
  • Cross-party group will make case for keeping close to EU

Just over two months after its defeat in the Brexit referendum, the campaign to keep Britain inside the European Union relaunched itself on Friday as a pressure group pushing for a departure that changes as little as possible.

Top of the wish-list for the group, now calling itself Open Britain, is continued membership of the EU’s single market, with “influence over regulatory decision-making.” On the right of EU citizens to come and live in the U.K., it says the aim should be to “mend not end” the current system, possibly by funding communities most affected by migrants. It also wants all current employment rights for citizens of the bloc to be guaranteed.

Such a vision is unlikely to find much support in the government. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Theresa May set out ending the freedom of EU citizens to come to the U.K. as the first of her negotiating red lines. The objective of the cross-party group is to create space for the argument that Britain should stay as close as possible to the EU even after it’s left.

QuickTake Brexit

“The campaign will marry a commitment to Britain’s membership of the single market with making a positive case about the benefits of immigration,” Anna Soubry, a lawmaker from May’s Conservative Party, said in an e-mailed statement. “The present system needs further reform. It’s particularly important people know the facts about immigration, we tackle their concerns and ensure the system works fairly for everyone.”

No Back Door

The first campaign the group will run will be on the importance of the single market, under the slogan “One Market: Millions of Jobs.”

Meanwhile Andrew Tyrie, the chairman of Parliament’s Treasury Committee, warned that those who opposed Brexit shouldn’t build up hope that “the U.K. can carry on pretty much as now, and that a renegotiation can achieve continued membership through the back door.”

He agreed that the U.K. needs to secure tariff-free access to the single market, especially in services, where Britain has a trade surplus. “On services, particularly financial services, the U.K. needs a deal that gives it both access and influence,” Tyrie wrote in an essay. “Its size –- preponderance in financial services -– and pre-existing levels of integration with the EU mean that it is much better equipped to obtain something than any other country to negotiate this.”

He also urged the government to make clear that the savings promised by the pro-Brexit campaign -- in particular the idea that 350 million pounds ($464 million) could be diverted to health spending -- won’t be delivered. This would be embarrassing for Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who toured the country during the campaign in a bus with the figure written on its side.

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