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Brexit: Senior Tory MP calls for UK to rejoin EU single market


A senior Conservative MP has called for Boris Johnson’s government to take the UK back into the EU single market to help ease the cost of living crisis.

Tobias Ellwood, the defence select committee chair, said Brexit had left British business “strangled” by red tape – insisting that it was time to “think outside the box”.

The leading Tory MP urged the government to look again at forging a Norway-style relationship with the EU, allowing access to the single market through the European Economic Area (EEA).

Writing in The House magazine, Mr Ellwood said the move would see post-Brexit paperwork costing firms £7bn removed and help ease inflationary pressures on hard-pressed families.

“Sector after sector is being strangled by the red tape we were supposed to escape from,” said the Tory MP – arguing that Brexit has not turned to be what “most people imagined”.

Speaking about his proposal on Times Radio on Thursday, Mr Ellwood said: “I’m daring to think outside the box … that’s what we need to do at the moment, given the economic situation we face.”

He added: “It would strengthen our economy because it would remove so much red tape, it would ease the cost of living crisis, and it would actually settle the difficult Irish question on the Northern Ireland Protocol.”

But David Frost – No 10’s former Brexit negotiator – denounced Mr Ellwood’s surprise call. The hardliner said Mr Ellwood’s intervention “shows Brexit really is not safe in his hands or his allies”.

Senior Tory backbencher Mark Harper also rejected the idea, tweeting: “No. The UK voted to leave the EU. That meant leaving the single market and putting an end to freedom of movement. The end.”

Treasury minister Simon Clarke said he was “pleased to reassure Mr Ellwood” that Britain would not be rejoining the single market – claiming that it would “extinguish half the freedoms that make Brexit so important”.

Mr Ellwood acknowledged that being in the single market would mean signing up to the freedom of movement – something many Tory MPs were determined to avoid in the years running about to the final Brexit deal.

But the senior Tory pointed out that being part of the EU’s Dublin convention could lead to better co-operation with other countries when it comes to asylum seekers.

Mr Ellwood also argued that re-joining the single market would boost the UK’s “European credentials” at a time of greater threat from Russia and bring Britain closer to the US.

He asked: “Would it not be churlish for us not to think would our heads, do the maths and ask ourselves if this economically is in the nation’s interests?”

James Withers, head of Scotland Food and Drink, said Mr Ellwood’s intervention was a “timely, welcome reminder from that Brexit is doable without shooting ourselves in both feet”.

But he said the fuss caused by his proposal “is a sign of how much we have lost in the battle between ideology and sensible governing”.

Meanwhile, Mr Ellwood called for “civility” in the Tory party as it wrestles with the leadership question, as he confirmed he had sent a letter of no-confidence in Mr Johnson months ago.

Asked about briefings against rebel backbenchers, he told Times Radio: “I’m worried about the language now being used. I do worry about where [the debate] is descending. The party itself must work together, whatever happens.”

He added: “But you can’t get away from the fact that there are genuine concerns [about Johnson’s leadership] … it’s reflected the polling, local elections and no doubt in the by-elections as well. And those issues do need to be addressed.”


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