Theresa May faces Tory anger over soft Brexit proposal
Tory Brexiters voice concerns over common rulebook plan for UK-EU free trade area
Hardline Eurosceptic MP’s have begun to voice concerns at Theresa May’s plans to negotiate a soft Brexit deal.
After a high-stakes Chequers awayday, the prime minister managed to sign up her fractious cabinet to a UK-EU free trade area under a common rulebook that will match EU standards on foods and goods.
The plan has alarmed Brexiters, who believe it signals that Britain will in effect remain subject to EU rules and unable to negotiate new trade deals.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the European Research Group (ERG) of pro-Brexit Tory MPs, and Andrea Jenkyns, both warned that the UK would be a rule-taker.
While most ERG MPs remained silent, some signs of dissent slipped through. Marcus Fysh replied to May’s announcement on Twitter at 2.48am, saying: Please see me, following it five minutes later with: Moronic.
Rees-Mogg said he was waiting to see the full details of the proposals but added: This will require legislation and if, when we get the detailed legislation, it turns out that it is a punishment Brexit, that it is keeping us in the European Union in all but name, I will stick to the Conservative party’s manifesto commitments and will not vote for it.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he would wait to see if the red lines had been turned pink but warned that the common rulebook proposal could make trade deals almost impossible if it meant regulations would have to apply to any goods coming into the UK.
He added that it is possible that this deal is worse than a no deal Brexit.
As with eggs: an egg that is very softly boiled isn’t boiled at all. A very soft Brexit means that we haven’t left, we are simply a rule-taker. That is not something that this country voted for, it is not what the prime minister promised.
The prime minister will, I’m sure, stick to her word that is crucially important but I will certainly stick to the Conservatives manifesto commitments and will not vote for something that doesn’t deliver Brexit.
Jenkyns complained that British businesses will continue to be a rule-taker from the EU and said she would pray that the detail was not as bad as she feared.
There is no sign yet of how many MPs are unhappy with the common rulebook proposal, and moderate Tories have supported it.
Heidi Allen said she was pleased to report Theresa May has secured cabinet agreement for a sensible, soft Brexit.
The Democratic Unionist party deputy leader, Nigel Dodds, whose partys votes are crucial to propping up the May government, said he would be meeting ministers to go through the details.
The cabinet Brexiter Chris Grayling acknowledged the proposal could lead to issues in negotiating a US trade deal.
The transport secretary said: I didnt campaign to leave the European Union to have a different specification of motorcar on sale in the UK to the one thats on sale in France. This is simply saying that we will effectively sell the same products across Europe as we do now its what business does and would do anyway, nobody produces a different product for one country.
Asked what the common rule book with the EU on food products would mean for the proposed US trade deal, Grayling told Today: There may be individual issues to address in future trade talks.
The Commons leader, Andrea Leadsom, said: As a passionate Brexiter with huge optimism about future as a free-trading nation, I agree with the PM that keeping the UK together is vital.
The prime minister released a statement following the critical afternoon session of the long-awaited summit. May said the cabinet had agreed our collective position for the future of our negotiations with the EU. That included a proposal to create a UK-EU free trade area which establishes a common rulebook for industrial goods and agricultural products after Brexit.
Lord Ashcroft said on Saturday afternoon that he believed environment secretary Michael Gove was the first Brexiter to give the prime minister support.
On Thursday, when the common rulebook proposal was first leaked, hardline Brexiter cabinet ministers and Conservative MP’s had voiced alarm that it could prevent the UK striking a trade deal with the US, which has different standards in goods and foods, such as allowing chickens to be washed in chlorine.
But May was able to release the text of a three-page agreed statement before cabinet, following a relatively undramatic day of discussions.