The Times: Rees-Mogg Tories draw up their own blueprint for a hard Brexit14 August 2018 | 03:56 | FOCUS News Agency
Work has begun on a policy paper, due to be published next month, outlining the advantages to Britain of leaving the European Union on World Trade Organisation terms. It is expected to have the backing of 60 to 80 Conservative MPs, increasing the pressure on the prime minister before the party conference in Birmingham.
Although the paper is still being developed it is understood to allow for a possible Canadian-style free trade agreement, but only if the EU backs down on demands over the Irish border. If the EU refuses, the paper will say, Britain could thrive by relying on WTO mechanisms.
Under a Canadian-style agreement, there would be no tariffs on trade between the UK and the EU, but Britain would not be part of the single market or customs union.
The paper is being organised by Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the European Research Group of Conservative MPs. He is working with the former Brexit minister Steve Baker on a plan to create an “alternative view” to the government’s white paper.
They intend to have the paper agreed as a “common position” by Conservative members of the ERG, in opposition to the government’s official position as outlined in the Chequers white paper.
The fear among Mrs May’s aides is that such a show of strength by the Tory right will discourage Brussels from engaging seriously with her proposals because it will calculate that she does not have a majority to push her plan through in Westminster.
Senior figures in the ERG believe that Brussels will reject the Chequers proposals anyway. “We have made it very clear that we do not accept the Chequers proposals, but there is an acknowledgement that we need to make the case for an alternative,” one said. “The tricky bit is coming to a common position that everyone can sign up to, but I’m confident that we should be able to achieve that.”
Another source said: “We are working to come up with a positive policy paper that will take a realistic approach outlining what is acceptable in line with the referendum result.”
In The Times today, the Conservative former cabinet minister Lord Lilley, who is a member of the ERG, writes that while a Canadian-style trade deal would be “the best outcome”, no deal “would be a good second best”.
“The Chequers plan is moribund and the agreement offered by the EU in March is unacceptable because the ‘Irish backstop’ means splitting the UK,” he writes. “ ‘No deal’ is likely and would be a good second best, making a better deal possible later.”
Two Tory MPs have written to their colleagues before they return to parliament next month, asking them to join a new group in favour of a “pragmatic Brexit outcome”. The Brexit Delivery Group, led by Simon Hart and Andrew Percy, will meet weekly. In their letter, they made reference to the ERG, saying that any deal would be a compromise.
“We need . . . an agreement that stands the best chance of getting through parliament,” they said. “We are worried that this outcome could be put at risk by those who, perfectly honourably, seek the purity of perfection. In politics, ‘perfection’ does not exist, it is the siren song calling us on to the rocks.”
British and EU negotiators will hold “technical talks” this week to find an agreement on the Irish border, which Brussels has said is a matter of “absolute urgency”. It is understood that Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, and Dominic Raab, the Brexit secretary, will not attend but will make a joint statement next week.
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