Britain will ‘cripple’ its reputation as a free-trading nation if it quits Europe’s economic area and customs union.
That is the stark verdict of a trio of senior politicians who are urging MPs to help stop a hard Brexit when the EU (Withdrawl) Bill returns to the Commons.
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable, Tory former minister Anna Soubry and Labour’s Chuka Umunna denounced as a ‘profound mistake’ Brexiteers’ claims that new deals with countries like the US and China will make up for trade lost due to withdrawal from the EU.
Umunna said the crunch vote offers MPs ‘the chance to defeat a hard Brexit once and for all’ by backing an amendment requiring ministers to negotiate a new relationship with the customs union.
He urged Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to whip his MPs to oppose government efforts to overturn all 15 amendments introduced to the bill by the House of Lords.
In a report published by Open Britain, the three MPs – who have all held frontbench business and trade posts – said: ‘We risk damaging our trade with Europe to pursue trade talks with third countries, only to find that the terms on offer from those countries are unacceptable, or largely unbeneficial.
‘It simply does not make sense for this great country – which, let’s be clear, already is ‘global Britain’ – to pursue a course that we know will damage our economy and the life chances of generations to come.’
The report set out the difficulties and trade-offs which ministers could face in attempting to negotiate new deals after Brexit, including:
• The long-standing reluctance of China and the US to open up their service sectors;
• The damaging impact on British farmers of cuts in agricultural tariffs likely to be demanded by countries like New Zealand as part of any deal;
• Likely pressure from the US and Australia for the lifting of restrictions on chlorine-washed chicken, hormone-injected beef and GM crops;
• and Indian and Australian demands for more visas for their citizens.
Former business secretary Sir Vince said: ‘Trade negotiations are nasty, brutish and long, and they generally involve large trade-offs.
‘Whether it is lowering our standards or granting more visas, ministers have made no attempt whatsoever to explain to the public what the implications might be.
‘The notion that a raft of new deals can be done swiftly or bring overall benefit to the UK economy has now been exposed as a fantasy. And with President Trump imposing swingeing tariffs on our steel, the delusion that his administration will come to our rescue can shortly now be laid to rest.’
Soubry added: ‘It’s a fallacy that we’re better off out chasing unicorn deals on our own and that’s recognised by the Government.
‘Its own assessments show even if we got a deal with every available country it wouldn’t make good the harm we will do by walking out of the customs union and putting up custom barriers with the EU.’