George Osborne: Theresa May could be thwarted by Tories on hard Brexit plans

Posted On: 
1st February 2018

Conservative MPs will scupper Theresa May’s plans to deliver a hard Brexit, George Osborne warned today.

Theresa May and George Osborne back when they got on slightly better

The former Chancellor said the loss of the Tory majority in June meant MPs who wanted a softer exit from the bloc would “empower Parliament” and “pose a challenge to the Government”.

The Prime Minister has vowed to take Britain out of the single market and customs union and cut it off from EU rules - dubbed a hard Brexit.

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But a number of MPs - including a strong cohort on the Tory back benches - have called for a closer arrangement, such as membership of the European Free Trade Association (Efta).

That would put the UK in the same boat as nations like Iceland and Norway, which enjoy access to the single market but have to abide by EU rules including the free movement of people.

Mr Osborne said an “increasing number” of Tory MPs were calling for the UK to join Efta or stay within the customs union.

“The first rule of politics is that you’ve got to learn to count,” he told Radio 4’s Today programme this morning.

“And when you’ve got increasing numbers of Conservative MPs saying 'I’m not happy leaving the customs union or I think we should consider Efta', that is going to pose a challenge to the Government.

“It’s also going to empower parliament and last time I checked, one of the principle arguments from the Brexiteers is that they wanted more parliamentary sovereignty."

Mr Osborne said there could be a majority in Parliament for such ‘soft Brexit’ arrangements after a leaked government warned of the impact on UK growth of a hard Brexit.

Mrs May has insisted free movement will end when the UK leaves the EU in March next year - meaning she is intent on getting her vision for Brexit through Parliament.

Her plans also tee up a major row with Brussels, which wants free movement to continue at least during the two-year transition period after Brexit.

Mr Osborne has been a thorn in Mrs May's side since she sacked him as Chancellor in one of her first acts after entering Downing Street.

He called her a "dead woman walking" after the snap general election and has used numerous leader columns in the Evening Standard, which he now edits, to call for a change of Tory leadership.