Brexit: Nicky Morgan says push to stay in EU single market 'only sensible way forward'

Norway has opened the door for UK membership of the EEA, saying it would "cope very well if the Brits come in"

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Monday 14 May 2018 14:51
What is still needed to complete a deal with the EU?

A leading Tory rebel has backed efforts to effectively keep Britain in the single market, in a sign of growing support for the plan among pro-EU MPs.

Former cabinet minister Nicky Morgan said pursuing a Norway-style Brexit through membership of the Economic European Area (EEA) was the “sensible way forward” after the Norwegian prime minister indicated the country would be open to the idea of UK membership.

Rebel peers in both Labour and Tory ranks defied their leaders to defeat the government on the issue in the Lords last week, meaning MPs will now vote on whether to take the plan forward.

Speaking at a cross-party event aimed at softening the Brexit terms, Ms Morgan urged MPs to “resist the siren voices” that suggest Britain can get exactly the same benefits outside of the customs union and the single market.

Labour ex-foreign secretary David Miliband also weighed in, saying he was "baffled" by Jeremy Corbyn's decision to oppose the move and warned the Labour leader risked becoming the "midwife of a hard Brexit".

Norway’s government suggested in the past that it might block Britain's membership of the EEA but prime minister Erna Solberg has now said that Norway would "cope very well if the Brits come in".

Ms Morgan told an audience at the Tilda rice factory, in Essex, that Norway's intervention was "very significant" in the debate around the terms of Britain's exit from the EU.

She said: “If we are not going to get this deep and comprehensive free trade agreement the Prime Minister has talked about and David Davis has talked about, then the EEA has to be a sensible way to go forward and the Lords are right to put it back on the agenda.

“I certainly will be looking at it - I think it’s something I will be likely to support - and I think it provides a big answer to the City of London in terms of the worries.”

Ms Morgan also condemned those who branded any Brexit critics as “a mutineer, a saboteur or a traitor” and revealed she would be giving evidence in court in a matter of weeks after receiving a death threat for her Brexit campaigning.

Mr Miliband, who lost out to his brother Ed in the 2015 leadership race, risked infuriating the Labour leadership by urging MPs to defy Mr Corbyn and support a successful Lords amendment to keep Britain in the EEA.

Hailing it as a "safe harbour", he added: "I am baffled about why the Labour leadership is so worried about supporting the EEA position.

"I fear the position that they have taken makes Jeremy Corbyn the midwife of a hard Brexit."

Rejecting the EEA would result in being "driven to a hard Brexit" which impedes trade and undermines employment and environmental standards, he suggested.

Mr Miliband, who now runs a refugee charity in New York, said: "I think there is a real onus on parliamentarians now, when the House of Lords amendment finally comes back to the House of Commons.

"You have seen many Labour peers who know the value of loyalty talking about the essence of doing the right thing this time and my own view is that peers are ahead of the party leadership when it comes to this EEA issue."

They were also joined by former Lib Dem deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, who said there was "complete bafflement" from EU leaders and politicians about the UK's approach.

The EEA tends to cover countries outside the EU who still adhere to the rules of the single market, such as Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway, who are able to participate because of their membership of the European Free Trade Association.

Downing Street has consistently ruled out staying in the EU's single market and customs union and Labour also officially opposes such a move.

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