The party’s spring conference is expected on Saturday to back a policy calling for the UK’s economic reintegration into the EU once “the ties of trust and friendship are renewed”.
The plan is a response to the widespread disruption to trade between Britain and the EU that has followed the government’s “hard” Brexit.
New red tape introduced by Britain leaving the bloc has seen queues of lorries at ports, plummeting exports, and companies quitting the market altogether.
A new policy paper backed by the party’s leadership says that “the best option, bringing most benefits to the UK economy and society, is to seek to join the single market”.
This would give UK businesses full access to the European Economic Area, reintroduce freedom of movement, and resolve outstanding issues with the Northern Ireland protocol, the party says.
The first step of the roadmap calls for “immediate” initiatives to repair the UK-EU relationship, including granting full settled status to EU citizens and ramping up the British presence in Brussels.
The party would then gradually phase in UK-EU cooperation on issues like the Erasmus Plus university programme and the caring for of asylum seekers.
It would then push for a series of reciprocal deals on issues such as the recognition of professional qualifications, fast-tracked work visas, and a veterinary agreement.
Only then, “once the trading relationship between the UK and the EU is deepened, and the ties of trust and friendship are renewed”, would the party seek to join the single market, while remaining outside the European Union itself.
Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrats’ Europe spokesperson, cited the war in Ukraine as an illustration of why the UK and EU “cannot afford to be disunited”.
“For too long, our ties with Europe have been defined by petty squabbling and the government’s overly ideological approach,” she said. “British people and small businesses who are tangled in red tape are paying the price, and they deserve better.
“The reality is that we need a way forward which works for Britain – one where we stand with our allies, reduce costs for businesses, and make people better off as a result. Our comprehensive roadmap will start a new trading relationship with Europe – with British businesses and families benefiting as a result.”
Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey made a pitch this week for a coalition with Labour after the next election – and has previously suggested he would not work with Boris Johnson’s Conservatives.
Labour’s Europe policy is less ambitious than that of the Lib Dems, and calls for relatively minor changes to the government’s Brexit deal, such as a new veterinary agreement. The party has declined to back single market membership, or to work to reintroduce freedom of movement, despite a pledge by Sir Keir Starmer during the leadership election to do so.
UK to EU exports fell 12 per cent between January and December last year, compared to the previous year – with supply chain disruption, new trade barriers, and additional red tape caused by Brexit cited as the main reasons.
Sales to the EU dropped more sharply in 2021 than exports to any other country in the world, according to the data. Non-EU exports were also down by 6 per cent, suggesting that the rest of the world is not stepping in to fill the gap.
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