All but one minister in Theresa May’s cabinet are on record as backing the single market during their political career, new research has revealed.
Either through public comments or parliamentary votes, 28 of 29 on the Prime Minister’s front bench team, have argued the EU’s single market has benefit the UK economy.
The research from Open Britain was released on Tuesday, when the three Brexiteers - Brexit Secretary David Davis, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson - were to make speeches at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
All three of the hard Brexit backers made the list, while Baroness Evans, the Leader of the House of Lords, was the only politician attending cabinet not on record supporting single market membership.
Johnson said in 2013 “I’d vote to say in the single market”, while Fox said that “Conservative members believe in the single market because we believe profoundly in the importance of free trade and we want Europe to be at the centre of a free-trading world.”
Leader of the House of Commons and one of the leading lights of the Leave campaign, Andrea Leadsom, even said she supported an “expanded” single market, while Davis described the Single Market as “one of our country’s greatest successes.”
Arch Brexiteers Priti Patel and Chris Grayling, as well as almost all of the current cabinet, voted for a Westminster motion in January 2014 which said it is “the Government’s view that measures which promote growth and jobs in the EU, including measures towards completing the single market, are the top priority.”
Open Britain added that even the Government’s own website still states that the single market is “key to Europe’s place in the global economy” and that “it can drive growth and jobs.”
It goes on to say the Government is “aiming to make the single market more productive, better for small business, and fit for a digital age, so that businesses can operate cross-border in the same way they do at home.”
The Treasury website also lists the ‘European Single Market’ as its number one policy priority.
Former Conservative Health Secretary during John Major’s premiership, Stephen Dorrell said: “This research demonstrates that senior members of this Government know full well that our membership of the single market represents an essential national interest.
“They could of course have changed their mind. They might have been persuaded that Margaret Thatcher was wrong to support its creation and Tony Benn was right to oppose it.
“If so let them explain what has led them to change their mind. It is not good enough to refer to the referendum.
“If they believe, and this research shows that they do, that leaving the single market damages our national interests, they have a democratic duty to say so – and to vote accordingly.
“To do otherwise is to dodge the bullet – and blame the voters. If Britain leaves the Single Market, our public services will be worse funded and our living standards will be lower – in plain English we shall all be poorer.”
The Brexiteer front benchers who backed the single market
The Foreign Secretary, who this week set out his four red lines on Brexit in an interview with The Sun in what is widely seen as a leadership pitch, has previously said “what most people in this country want is the single market”, and he would personally vote to remain a member of it.
He told the BBC Andrew Marr Show in 2012: ″We would like a new relationship. And it’s very simple - what most people in this country want is the single market, the common market.”
Johnson also told Sky News in 2013: “I’d vote to stay in the single market. I’m in favour of the single market ... I want us to trade freely with our European friends and partners.”
Back in 1995, the Brexit Secretary called the single market “one of our country’s greatest successes” in Parliament, and has previously described the European Economic Area (EEA) option as “too good” in a speech 2016.
In 2012 he said his preference would be “that we should remain in the Customs Union”, because it would mean “our manufacturers would not face complex and punitive “rules of origin” tariffs.
Theresa May’s International Trade Secretary has said the single market was “important then, but is doubly important now” in Parliament back in 1993 and said in 2005, also in Westminster, Fox said that progress of the single market “has been a step in the right direction”.
On November 24, 1993, he told MPs: “After the successful summit in Brussels in 1988, my noble Friend Baroness Thatcher said: ‘The creation of the single European market by 1992 is regarded by the British Government as the most important objective of the European Community.’
“It was important then, but it is doubly important now. Conservative members believe in the single market because we believe profoundly in the importance of free trade and we want Europe to be at the centre of a free-trading world. We believe in the power, supremacy and wisdom of the free market and that commerce—not politics—is the greatest unifying force available.”
In 2005, he said: “The progress of the single market, albeit at much too slow a pace, has been a step in the right direction.”
The Leader of the House of Commons told MPs in 2011: “I am a big fan of an expanded single market because I genuinely believe that it is in the interests of all EU member states.”
And in 2012, she said: “The UK has been enormously successful in achieving its strategic aims of enlargement and deepening of the single market.”
Michael Gove, Priti Patel and Chris Grayling
The three all voted for a Government motion in January 2014 that states it is “the Government’s view that measures which promote growth and jobs in the EU, including measures towards completing the Single Market, are the top priority.”