Half-Measured Brexit? MPs Scheme to Remain in Single Market
Theresa May will have a lot on her plate next month as MPs from the Remain camp, plan to force a Commons vote to keep the UK in the European Economic Area (EEA), for many years after it has left the EU.
Notably, Labour have been more outspoken about their intentions to keep the UK in the single market, however, Conservative Remainers are also expected to derail the current repeal bill in fear that a full split would create severe economic damage when Brexit is completed in 2019.
Shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer is proposing that the existing Repeal Bill should be amended to keep current arrangements on trade with the EU during a transitional period, which contradicts Jeremy Corbyn’s stance, that under his leadership, the UK would, in fact leave the single market.
In a tweet, Starmer wrote: “Labour will work with others to ensure Brexit transition on same basic terms: including single market and custom union.”
Additionally, Labour MP, Stephen Kinnock has stated that he is already in talks with 15 Tory Remainer MPs about a temporary membership with the EEA in an attempt to avoid a “cliff edge” exit from the EU.
Kinnock’s plan, along with MPs Chuka Umunna and Heidi Alexander is to look to work with Tory MPs to ensure that an amendment proposal is put on the table in the Commons when the Repeal Bill reaches the floor on 7 September.
If Kinnock manages to convince the 15 rebel Tories, then this would be enough to defeat the Conservatives in any Commons vote, as Theresa May is working on a majority of just 12 MPs.
However, on Monday, 10 Downing Street had ruled out any kind of “off the shelf” arrangement such as staying in the EEA for the transitional period, stating that membership of the single market and free movement would come to an end on the day of Brexit.
Despite this, chancellor Philip Hammond believes that there is no time for the UK to come with a tailored agreement with the EU and has informed businesses that an “off the shelf” arrangement would replicate the existing advantages of the single market.
Hammond’s idea for an “off the shelf” arrangement was backed by former foreign secretary, William Hague, who said on Tuesday that there is “clear potential for Brexit to become the occasion of the greatest economic, diplomatic and constitutional muddle in the modern history of the UK, with unknowable consequences for the country, the government and the Brexit project itself.” He added that Hammond’s plan for a transitional period post Brexit, such as remaining in the EEA, was the best way to try and rescue Brexit.
Despite Downing Street’s hardline stance that the UK will leave the EEA when it leaves the EU by default, the legal lines are blurred on whether the UK is actually able to leave the single market without permission from parliament. Last March, Brexit secretary, David Davis said that it would be likely that parliament would need to have a say on any amendments to the European Economic Area Act 1993, however, since the last general election, the PM will find it difficult to find a majority to leave the EEA.
Whilst attempting to round up support from both major parties, Stephen Kinnock said: “The EEA is a well-established and well understood arrangement that allows us to leave the EU by walking calmly over a bridge rather than leaping recklessly off a cliff edge.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Exiting the EU said: “We have repeatedly made clear that we will not be members of the EEA after exit. The UK is a member of the EEA by virtue of our membership of the EU. Therefore, when we leave the EU, we will no longer be a member of the EEA. The purpose of the repeal bill is to create a functioning statute book. It does not provide the process for the UK to leave the EEA.”
This is yet another display of the deepening tensions within the Labour and Conservative parties. If MPs want to avoid a “cliff edge” or a potential financial crisis post Brexit, then parliament needs to be unanimous, to make sure that withdrawing from the EU can be as smooth as possible and that decisions are made for the best of the country.