Single Market Should Be at Heart of Brexit Plan, Remainers Say

  • Clegg, Soubry, Umunna join forces to plead single market case
  • May has made immigration controls priority of Brexit talks

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Keeping membership of the European single market should be at the core of Britain’s plan for Brexit because of its importance to the economy, according to a cross-party group of senior lawmakers who campaigned to remain in the European Union.

A departure from both the EU and its single market, coupled with a free-trade agreement that prioritized only some industries, would damage the economy because “every major sector is linked to the EU single market and could be harmed,” according to research for the group, Open Britain, conducted by the Centre for Economics and Business Research. Cherry-picking is made difficult by the linkages between industry sectors, it said.

“The benefits we have within the single market cannot be replicated outside it without cost, since every alternative inevitably means increased barriers to trade,” the opposition Labour Party’s former business spokesman, Chuka Umunna, said on Monday.

Politicians from all parties who backed “Remain” in the referendum in June have largely accepted the verdict of the public, and many are now trying to ensure that Brexit is carried out in a way that retains as close a link to the EU as possible. Prime Minister Theresa May has signaled immigration controls are a priority of her strategy, with her European counterparts suggesting that stance is incompatible with staying in the single market.

Stop Throwing Rocks

“We need to stop throwing rocks at each other and we need to build a smooth pathway on solid foundations as we begin this process of leaving the EU,” said former Business Minister Anna Soubry, a Conservative who campaigned for Remain. “It is critically important that we do put forward the evidence about the importance of the single market to British business.”

She was backed up by Terry Scuoler, chief executive officer of the manufacturing industry group EEF.

“Our member companies are looking as far as possible for ongoing access to the tariff-free single market,” he said. “They are looking for free, and if not free, then fair, movement of skilled labor” as well as unskilled workers, he said.

British Influence, a research institute, has written to the government to say it’s seeking a judicial review of the U.K. position on leaving the single market, given that wasn’t a question in the referendum, according to spokesman, Tyler Hanley. The group hasn’t yet hired lawyers, he said, adding the move was “nothing to do with stopping Brexit.”

The Leave.EU campaign group denounced the legal challenge as a “desperate attempt to tie us to the sinking European ship. The government has “a clear mandate” to leave both the European Economic Area and the EU, it said in an e-mailed statement.

Trade Barriers

The single market extends wider than the 28-nation EU to bind countries in a free-trade area that incorporates common regulations and product standards. At present, the only three non-EU countries with full access to the rights and obligations of the single market are Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, which gain that access through membership of the European Economic Area.

The U.K. will cease to be a member of the EEA when it leaves the EU, Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokeswoman, Helen Bower, told reporters in London on Monday. May has repeatedly said she’s seeking a “bespoke” access deal for Britain outside the EU.

“It is the height of irony that free-market Brexiteers often claim European regulations are the product of an overbearing European super-state, when in fact EU regulations are designed to liberalize markets,” said Nick Clegg, the former Liberal Democrat leader and deputy prime minister. “It is ironic too that arguing to leave the single market on the basis of reducing the regulatory burden we face would in fact lead to reduced trade due to an increase in regulatory trade barriers.”

— With assistance by Kit Chellel

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