The influential Commons Brexit committee has called on the UK Government to consider negotiating continued membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) or joining the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) after Brexit.
Brexit Secretary David Davis has previously ruled out both options, calling them “in many ways, the worst of all outcomes.”
However the cross-party committee, in its report on the future UK-EU relationship, recommended that if negotiations on a “deep and special partnership” proved unsuccessful, EEA/EFTA membership should “remain an alternative”.
The recommendation caused splits in the committee, with prominent Tory Brexiteers led by Jacob Rees-Mogg voting against its inclusion. The committee’s Brexiteers also voted against the report in its entirety, but were defeated 10-6.
In addition to the recommendation, the committee also set down 15 “key tests” for the UK Government’s final deal with the EU to pass. The guidelines covered everything from the Northern Ireland border issue to the free flow of data between the UK and EU post Brexit.
Labour chairman of the committee Hilary Benn admitted to setting “a high bar” with the tests, but added that they were based on the past pledges of the Prime Minister and the Brexit Secretary.
He said: “Our tests set a high bar but they are based on the Prime Minister’s vision for our future outside the EU and the statement by the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis MP, that any new deal would be at least as good as what we have now.”
“It is vital that UK businesses are able to continue to trade freely and sell services into our largest market after we leave, without additional costs or burdens or a hard border in Northern Ireland and that we maintain close co-operation on defence, security, data and information sharing and consumer safety.”
He added: “Should negotiations on a ‘deep and special partnership’ not prove successful, we consider that EFTA/EEA membership remains an alternative which would have the advantage of continuity of access for UK services and could also be negotiated relatively quickly.”
The committee’s tests included keeping an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, co-operation on crime and terrorism and tariff free trade between the UK and EU.
The report also calls on the Government to maintain convergence with EU regulations in “order to maximize access to European markets” and advises that any new immigration arrangements “must not act as an impediment to the movement of workers providing services across borders”.