Top Brexiteers call on Theresa May to scrap Chequers plan and back free trade agreement
Senior pro-Brexit Conservatives including Boris Johnson and David Davis have called on Theresa May to ditch her Chequers plan once and for all and back a major think-tank’s free trade strategy.
A host of eurosceptic Tory MPs have thrown their weight behind the Institute of Economic Affairs’ (IEA) plan, which would see the UK try to create a Canada-style free trade agreement on goods with the EU.
The free market think-tank's alternative would also attempt to replicate agreements with third countries while preparing to strike deals with the likes of China and the United States.
The IEA's report insists it would be “all but impossible” for Mrs May's Chequers agreement to work alongside Britain running an independent trade policy, but critics have pointed out that the findings offer no breakthrough on the Irish border.
The intervention comes ahead of talks between Mrs May and her Cabinet over the way forward for the UK in Brexit negotiations after EU leaders poured cold water on her proposals in Salzburg last week.
Mr Johnson - who quit as foreign secretary over Chequers earlier this year - said the proposals were “exciting” and urged his former colleagues to back the approach.
“The ideas being floated this morning show there’s a real alternative and actually it’s the alternative that the Prime Minister originally wanted to do at Lancaster House,” he told Channel 4 News.
“Because it enables us to do a big free trade agreement with the European Union, but also to do free trade deals around the world. So I think it’s a very exciting way forward and I hope very much that the cabinet look at it…
“Chequers keeps us basically locked in an EU legislative system and this sets us free to prosper and do free trade deals around the world.”
Arch-Brexiteer and chair of the European Research Group Jacob Rees-Mogg meanwhile said he believed the “exciting” proposals would have the backing of the EU, the British public and the House of Commons.
“I think that reality, that consciousness, will ensure that if this got to the House of Commons it would be passed,” he told those present at the IEA report’s launch.
“So it’s not just deliverable in terms of the EU, it’s deliverable in terms of public opinion and it’s deliverable in terms of parliamentary votes. I think this paper therefore is the most exciting contribution we have had to this debate in many months.
Elsewhere former Brexit Secretary David Davis said the PM’s failure to sell her proposal to European leaders last week was “all too predictable”.
He added that Britain would have a “particularly huge role available to it” on the global stage which he said would be “amplified” under a free trade deal.
NO IRISH BREAKTHROUGH
But the plan was criticised by Downing Street, which said no alternative proposal could avoid a hard border in Ireland - a key sticking point in talks with the EU.
“No EU third country free trade agreement has ever led to a reduction in barriers to the extent that no hard border is needed,” the prime minister's spokesperson said.
“There’s no global precedent for an infrastructure-free border without substantial regulatory and customs alignment.”
Layla Moran from the pro-EU Best for Britain campaign meanwhile said of the report: "The Brexit brigade are at it again. They're trying to dupe the public into thinking that a hard border in Ireland can be avoided by pitching up checks down the road, and making it illegal to export non-EU compliant foods into the Irish market.
“The problem is the first idea won't work and the second will simply mean clinging to EU rules we no longer have a say over.
But IEA director Shanker Singham, who drew up the plan, insisted the Irish border was not an issue and said his grouo had offered solutions which “operated in the rest of the world”.
He told the Today programme: “Every day these mechanisms are used, and we believe that together – there’s no one thing we would do – if you do all of the things we suggest, you will avoid hardening the border.”