Tory Remainers calls for a 'Carlsberg Brexit deal'

PUBLISHED: 11:43 07 February 2018 | UPDATED: 11:44 07 February 2018

Tory MP James Cartlidge

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Tory MPs have called on the government to scrap its "vassal state" transition deal with the EU and instead purse a "Carlsberg Brexit deal" with the European Free Trade Association.

Ministers were urged to opt for the "safe harbour" of EFTA while a more comprehensive free trade deal was thrashed out with the EU.

Joining EFTA would see the UK become part of a free trade area with Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

Membership would allow for continued access to the EU single market, but would also see an end to political integration and decisions made by unanimity - pleasing both Remainers and Brexiteers, MPs have said.

Tory MP James Cartlidge (South Suffolk), speaking during a Westminster Hall debate on EFTA, said: "The government proposal at the moment, even I as someone who campaigned to remain, is a vassal transition where we have absolutely no control whatsoever."

The backbencher went on to say that EFTA offered "the best transition... to secure our long term future."

He added: "If Carlsberg did off the shelf, last minute Brexit deals that pleased everybody it would look an awful lot like EEA EFTA."

Fellow Tory MP Paul Masterton (East Renfrewshire) told ministers that EFTA did not have to be a "final destination" but offered "a safe harbour, a staging point" while a free trade agreement was formalised.

He said: "EFTA gives guarantees to those who voted leave that we're implementing their democratic will to leave the European Union and if anything, it finds that sweet spot on reflecting the EU referendum result."

Tory MP Antoinette Sandbach (Eddisbury) argued that EFTA would provide a "soft landing" if a deal was not reached with the EU before the 2019 deadline.

She said: "As we currently stand failing to strike a deal will see us ejected from the EU with no alternative to WTO terms and EFTA should be this alternative."

Ms Sandbach quoted Lord Bridges, who spoke during the second reading of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill in the Lords last week, saying: "Transition needs to be a bridge to the future not a gangplank into thin air and EFTA offers this bridge."

Tory former minister Stephen Hammond, who secured the debate, argued joining EFTA did not stop the Government's plan to negotiate a "deep and special bespoke arrangement with the EU."

He said: "The clock is ticking... the chances are that we may end up with nothing at all or well below what the government's ambition is.

"It seems to me the EFTA/EEA arrangement is an absolutely good place for the UK to start as we leave the EU."

The MP for Wimbledon said one of the "great myths" of the EU referendum was that the UK also voted to leave the single market and the customs union.

The UK he said needed an exit and a deal which allowed it to trade freely with former partners, allow the UK to sign new free trade agreements and provided a level of economic certainty to businesses and people.

He branded Brexit a time of "national crisis", adding the EFTA approach would satisfy the "overwhelming majority" of the British public and go a long way to healing the divisions.

He said: "EFTA is not and I recognise it's not a universal panacea, neither does it have all the benefits of membership of the single market and the customs union, but Britain's negotiating position and its economic position post-Brexit I believe and I hope this whole House believes would be improved by joining EFTA."

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