‘Remainer Phil’ Throws in the Towel: Britain Will Leave EU’s Single Market and Customs Union

Long thought to have been fighting a rearguard action against Brexit within the Tory Cabinet, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond has conceded Britain will leave the bloc, its Single Market and its Customs Union – with a few caveats.

Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked: “To those in the Tory Party who call you ‘Remainer Phil’, can you say, ‘We’re definitely leaving the EU, absolutely, on my watch, and we’re definitely leaving the Single Market on my watch?”

“Yes,” he replied. “Definitely. We’re leaving the EU, and because we’re leaving the EU we will be leaving the Single Market – and, by the way, we’ll be leaving the Customs Union.

“The question is not whether we’re leaving the Customs Union, the question is what do we put in its place in order to deliver the objectives, which the Prime Minister set out in the Lancaster House speech, of having no hard land border in Ireland, and enabling British goods to flow freely backwards and forwards across the border with the European Union.”

It is thought that Hammond was the strongest advocate of a so-called ‘Soft Brexit’ option in the Government. Such an option would see Britain kept within the bloc’s Single Market, a centrally-regulated trade zone in which migration is unlimited and effectively unvetted – leading to security risks and, in poorer member-states, brain drain.

‘Soft Brexit’ would also keep Britain within the Customs Union, making it very unlikely that it would be allowed to negotiate its own trade deals with countries outside the European Union – something the bloc prohibits its member-states from doing – and until now it was being reported that the Chancellor’s team at Her Majesty’s Treasury were in “street-fighting mode” to win support for this.

It should be noted, however, that something very close to membership of the Single Market and Customs Union could be arranged without formal membership. Switzerland, for example, is signed up to Free Movement in all but name, and struggled mightily to introduce restrictions on EU migration after being instructed to do so by the public in a ballot initiative referendum.

The “free flow” of goods between Britain and the European Union, while convenient for exporters, is also not without its drawbacks – for example, by making it impossible to subject food imports from the bloc to the same inspection standards as food from the wider world.

A report in The Grocer just one month prior to referendum day, for example, described how the EU had become “a food fraudster’s paradise”, with EU produce skirting Border Inspection Posts and entering the supply chain unchecked.

The dangers posed by this system were exposed during the infamous horsemeat scandal, but few Tories, if any, seem keen to use Brexit as an opportunity to reduce the threat posed to public health.

Follow Jack Montgomery on Twitter: @JackBMontgomery


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