Nick Clegg: Tories are 'up Brexit creek' with single market row
Nick Clegg has warned the Conservatives will never be able to call themselves a “responsible party of government” if they take the UK out of the European single market.
The Government has remained tight-lipped on whether it will try to remain a member of the European Economic Area, though several leading figures in the EU have warned that full access would require the UK to accept free movement rules.
Mr Clegg, the former deputy prime minister and now the Liberal Democrats’ spokesman on Europe, said this morning the Conservatives were facing “paralysis” as the party tried to reconcile different priorities.
He argued “two sides of the Conservative brain” were in conflict: one arguing for free trade, and the other which seeks “a return to the age of gunboat diplomacy and 19th century parliamentary sovereignty”.
“That is why they find themselves up this Brexit creek – never mind they don’t have a paddle; they don’t have a canoe, they don’t have a map, they have absolutely no clue whatsoever,” he told the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton this morning.
“In my view their paralysis is about to take a very serious turn. And it is this: I think under pressure from their more swivel-eyed backbenchers, under pressure from the Brexit press, under pressure from their own internal contradictions they will move remorselessly towards a hard Brexit, not only taking us out of the European Union but taking us out of the single market as well.
“And when they do that, they will do untold damage to the British economy; they will undo an extraordinary British achievement, the creation of the world’s largest borderless marketplace anywhere...
“When the Conservatives do that, we must remorselessly remind them that they can never dare say again that they are the party of business and more importantly they can never say again, having done so much damage to our great country because of their obsession about Europe, they can never again say that they are a responsible party of government.”
A number of delegates in the audience brandished hand-held European Union flags in approval, while one particularly enthusiastic member unfurled a larger version of the 12 golden stars.
The motion in question, whether the party should push for a second referendum on the final terms of Brexit, was overwhelmingly passed.
Party leader Tim Farron said: “The Liberal Democrats are now the only party who will give the public a vote on the final deal and who will campaign to remain in the EU.
“We are now the real opposition to the Conservative Brexit government, fighting to keep Britain open, tolerant and united.”
Another warning about the impact of leaving the single market was issued by the president of the German central bank this morning.
Jens Weidmann said financial firms’ passporting rights would “automatically” end if the UK was not a full member of the EEA.
And he anticipated that some companies would “reconsider the location of their headquarters” as a result.
Meanwhile, Treasury spokeswoman Baroness Kramer used her conference address to describe leading Brexiteers David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson as the “three oompa loompas” of Brexit.