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Senior Tory under fire for arguing UK should rejoin EU single market

Former minister Tobias Ellwood (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)
Former minister Tobias Ellwood (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

A Tory former minister has come under fire for suggesting the UK should rejoin the EU single market to ease the cost-of-living crisis.

Tobias Ellwood, MP for Bournemouth East, argued there is an “appetite” to make “course corrections” to the current model, claiming recent polling suggests “this is not the Brexit most people imagined”.

The chairman of the Commons Defence Committee said “more radical thinking is required if we are to energise our economy through these stormy waters”.

“If an Army general, mid-battle, is mature enough to finesse his strategy to secure mission success, then Government should do the same,” he added.

He said Brexit in its current form had sparked a number of challenges, including shrinking exports to Europe and issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol, and that these and other problems would “disappear” if the UK chose to rejoin the single market.

But he was met with forceful rebuttals from Tory colleagues, including Commons Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Tom Tugendhat, who said: “Let’s plan for the future and stop looking back. This decision is made.”

Former chief whip Mark Harper said: “The UK voted to leave the EU. That meant leaving the single market and putting an end to freedom of movement. The end.”

Treasury minister Simon Clarke said he was “pleased to reassure Mr Ellwood” that the UK would not be rejoining the single market, as this would “extinguish half the freedoms that make Brexit so important”.

Former Brexit minister Lord Frost appeared to suggest that Mr Ellwood – who has publicly said Prime Minister Boris Johnson no longer has his support – would not be suited to the top job, saying: “Brexit really is not safe in his hands or his allies’.”

Writing in The House magazine, Mr Ellwood conceded his suggestion “would require acceptance of some EU regulations”, but argued “one common standard” may be better than two for UK industry.

He also acknowledged there are “understandable reservations” about the free movement of people in relation to benefit claims which “would need addressing”, but claimed this is “not insurmountable”.

“Let’s not forget, both Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher endorsed this model, with the view that the potential economic benefits outweigh the drawbacks,” he wrote.

“If joining the single market (with conditions) results in strengthening our economy, easing the cost-of-living crisis, settling the Irish problem at a stroke and promoting our European credentials as we take an ever greater lead in Ukraine, would it not be churlish to face this reality?”

Speaking to Times Radio on Thursday, Mr Ellwood described the issue as a “hot potato”, but said people should not “shy away” from the subject.

“Joining that single market, I believe, would strengthen our economy because it would remove so much red tape, it would ease the cost-of-living crisis, it would actually settle the difficult Irish problem on the Northern Ireland Protocol… and finally, it’s also to do with boosting our European credentials,” he said.

“Because we are now taking a lead in Europe on Ukraine, but the fact that this Brexit issue – particularly on Northern Ireland – is unresolved means, you know, we’re pulled back on this.”

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