Neither the Tories nor Labour have a clue when it comes to EEA membership

The Liberal Democrats are the only ones with a sensible position when it comes to trade after Brexit, says the party's Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake MP.

Fittingly for the week of my birthday, the ‘have your cake and eat it’ fantasy continues to be the government’s default Brexit approach. Whilst some pundits have praised this approach as a clever tactic to keep the Tory party together, it’s no secret that the time for hard decisions is here.

Yet even the PM’s latest attempt to reach agreement on a preferred customs option is farcical –given the EU has already rejected this and the Johnson/Gove/Fox alternative.

As the debate over EEA membership continues, it is astonishing to witness the so-called party of business dismiss its own economic analysis, the CBI and other experts who do not toe the Tory Brexit line.

A vote for Brexit was always going to leave us with a choice between trashing our economy with a hard Brexit, or a soft Brexit leaving the UK with no choice but to passively accept all EU rules and regulations, without the ability to shape any of the decisions.

Either option is, undoubtedly, worse than what we have at the moment as an EU member state – and as Michel Barnier recently pointed out, it is impossible for the UK to get the benefits of the Norway model and the weak constraints of the Canadian one.

Sadly, just this week, the Leader of the Opposition and his frontbench are again walking hand in hand with the Tories over Brexit. Corbyn’s most recently stated intention to negotiate a new UK-EU customs deal amounts to a costly and pointless exercise that will certainly put the UK in a lesser position than it currently enjoys inside the EU Customs Union.

These latest approaches neatly highlight the chaos and internal divisions inside the Labour and the Tory parties which are seriously compromising the future of our country.

In April 2016 the PM said:

“It is not realistic to think we could just replace European trade with [deals with] new markets.”

The Liberal Democrats agreed with the statement then and continue to do so now. That is why we offered our full support in a letter to the PM, should she decide the UK should stay in the Single Market and the Customs Union.

Although we continue to believe the UK would be stronger in the EU, we will support a government change in policy in favour of an EEA partnership that would protect our membership of the Customs Union and the Single Market, which so many jobs and our living standards rely on.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the only way to protect our economy, the supply chains within our manufacturing industries and to solve the matter of the Irish border is to adopt the softest of Brexits.

Should the government follow this path, I am convinced that they would secure a parliamentary majority and support from a majority of the public who, contrary to the claims of the Brexiters, did not vote for extensive disruption to trade and dangerous uncertainties at the Irish border.

The Liberal Democrats are still hoping to convince the PM and the Leader of the Opposition of the merits of giving a final say on the deal to the people, at the end of the Brexit process.

But until we succeed, we hope that for now they will stop kicking the can down the road, abandon magical thinking, start taking decisions and agree that it is in our economic interest to retain our membership of the Customs Union and Single Market when the EU Withdrawal Bill comes back to the House of Commons.

Tom Brake MP is the Liberal Democrats’ Brexit spokesperson. 

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