A group of Labour and Conservative MPs are hoping to force a vote on whether the UK should stay in the European Economic Area for at least a few years after Brexit, in the belief that it may be possible to force Theresa May to yield on the issue.
MPs campaigning for a softer Brexit are increasingly concerned that the government’s EU withdrawal bill will not allow the UK to stay in the European Economic Area even temporarily before the final deal with the EU comes into force in around 2022.
But #Labour MPs such as Stephen Kinnock, Chuka Umunna and Heidi Alexander are considering ways to work with some Tories to keep the UK in EEA, at least for a transitional period, when the bill comes to the House of Commons in early September. One option would be for a backbencher to table an amendment asking the UK to remain in the EEA during the post-Brexit transition.
One Conservative MP fighting against hard Brexit told the Guardian it could be the biggest battle of the EU withdrawal bill and that there was a chance of defeating the government unless it gave more guarantees about the transitional period.
No 10 has ruled out staying in the EEA, saying exit will happen automatically at the point of Brexit, and rejected an “off the shelf” arrangement based on EEA membership for the transitional period. Members of the EEA are part of the EU’s single market; existing non-EU members include Norway and Iceland.
However, Philip Hammond, the chancellor, is known to believe there is no time for the UK to negotiate a bespoke agreement with the EU and has told businesses it would be best to have an off-the-shelf arrangement, which would mirror the advantages of the single market and largely persist with free movement.