Dozens of Tory MPs are warning ministers not to use a post-Brexit transitional period to stay in the EU “by stealth”.
They say to remain in the EU’s single market during the transition would be a “historic mistake”.
The Eurosceptic MPs’ concerns are revealed in a letter seen by the BBC.
Chancellor Philip Hammond has already said the UK will quit the EU’s single market and customs union when it leaves in March 2019.
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A so-called transitional period, after the UK leaves the EU but before new arrangements come into force, is intended to avoid a “cliff-edge” scenario for businesses and citizens.
The government has said this must come to an end by June 2022, when the next general election is due, and is hoping for a new free trade deal to replace the UK’s single market membership.
Unlike the government, Labour has said it would keep the UK in the single market and customs union for a transitional period which would be “as short as possible but as long as necessary”.
Speaking in the Commons on Thursday morning, Brexit Secretary David Davis said Labour’s proposals would be “the worst of all outcomes”.
‘Tie the hands’
The MPs’ letter has been obtained by BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg, who says it is designed to send a message to ministers “not to soften the government’s plans”.
One source told her it was a warning to “people like Hammond who think the election result means a softer Brexit”.
But a Remain-supporting MP said the signatories were trying to “tie the government’s hands on any transitional deal, destroying any chance of continuing the benefits of the customs union and the single market”.
Already signed by nearly 40 Conservatives, it was drawn up for publication in a Sunday newspaper.
It says: “Continued membership of the single market, even as part of a transitional arrangement, would quite simply mean EU membership by another name – and we cannot allow our country to be kept in the EU by stealth.
“The government must respect the will of the British people, and that means leaving the Single Market at the same time as we leave the EU.”
It says the single market is a “political project”, adding: “Therefore, the longer one remains a member, the harder it is to leave.
“Contrary to claims that it is a ‘sensible’ stepping stone to independence, it is in fact a conveyer belt to ever more European integration.”
The letter also demands that the government adds clauses to any transition deal to establish a “clearly-defined timetable” for leaving the single market and customs union.
It also calls for the UK to be able to “unilaterally withdraw” from the transitional deal.
“We need to be sure that our own government is in charge of the deal – not the EU – and that the deal won’t become permanent.”
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