Brexit Secretary David Davis has been accused of being “taken hostage by the hard Right” after it emerged he once sang the praises of the single market and the EU customs union.
The MP, who campaigned for Leave during the referendum, has been attacked for pursing a hard Brexit – meaning sacrificing access to the single market to end freedom of movement – without a clear plan for an alternative deal in place.
In a January speech which partially laid out the Government’s plan for Brexit, Prime Minister Theresa May said it would pursue hard Brexit to get a “clean break” from the EU and will instead focus on pursuing international trade deals outside Europe.
The UK has just two years to negotiate a trade deal with the EU, which then has to be ratified by the other 27 member states, before it crashes out of the union and is forced to resort to WTO (World Trade Organisation) tariff arrangements.
Currently 44 per cent of the UK’s exports – £220bn out of £510bn – go to the EU which are currently tariff-free.
Analysis done by The Independent suggests that using WTO standard tariffs could cost British exporters roughly £4.5bn per year.
But it has since emerged that Mr Davis was once in favour of the EU single market which he hailed as a “success” and said remaining in the customs union would help British businesses, the Mail on Sunday reported.
During a broadly Eurosceptic speech in November 2012, Mr Davis the EU “has enjoyed some successes, namely the single market and of course the enlargement which has brought a number of countries with troubled histories into the modern, democratic world.”
“My preference would be that we should remain within the customs union of the EU [even though we would] give up some freedoms in terms of negotiating our trading arrangements with third countries,” he said.
“The advantage would be that our manufacturers would not face complex and punitive rules-of-origin tariffs.”
But since the referendum, EU leaders have warned that they will not allow the UK to “cherry-pick” the elements of the deal they want.
Both freedom of movement and the single market are two of the “four freedoms” that the EU considers the founding principles of the union – and you cannot have one without the other.
Labour backbencher and former shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna, who currently chairs Vote Leave Watch, said the Brexit secretary must explain why he appears to have changed his mind.
He said: “The 2012 version of David Davis recognised the real problems that could emerge if we leave the customs union. Businesses will be hit by ‘punitive’ rules of origin, which vastly increase tariffs and red tape on companies trying to export to the EU.
“The Brexit Secretary needs to explain why he has changed his mind, why we should be leaving the single market and customs union when he admits they have been “successes”, and what evidence his department has that doing so will not damage our economy.
“David Davis’s U-turn suggests that … he, like the Prime Minister, has been taken hostage by the hard Right of the Tory Party.”
A source close to Mr Davis told the newspaper Mr Umunna should not “rake over” speeches made in 2012 and that he had set a “number of different ways the UK might thrive if it chose to leave the EU”.
“He is now a member of a Government that is determined to respect the referendum result, build a new partnership with the EU and forge new trading links with the rest of the world rather than spend its time having the same old arguments,” they added.