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Press Release: UK Government should change course in Brexit negotiations to build a new, constructive relationship with the EU

13th March 2017 – For immediate release





A new policy paper released today by the Conservative Group for Europe (CGE), the main campaign group for Conservative pro-Europeans, argues that the risks are high that the outcome of the exit negotiations will cause significant damage to the political and economic interests of both Britain and the EU, blighting relations for a generation. The CGE brings together over 30 Parliamentarians as members, with Ken Clarke MP as President and Neil Carmichael MP as Chairman.

The full paper available here

In the Group’s first policy paper in a planned series during the Article 50 period, author and CGE Vice Chairman Edward Bickham sets out the risks from a bad or chaotic Brexit, saying that the British Government is in serious danger of ‘asking for the wrong things, in the wrong way and on the wrong timescale’.

Bickham: “With the Article 50 process starting, the Government should change direction to deliver a better Brexit that unifies the country and maximises the economic and political interests of both the UK and the EU.  That will involve disappointing the Brexit zealots. The negotiations will be difficult, but the UK government faces a choice – either pursue a Brexit with a strong UK-EU institutional relationship that could be a win-win, or settle for a deal that destroys prosperity and influence.”

The paper’s main points include:

  • The Government has adopted an intimidatory stance towards critics, claiming that the Referendum has given it a mandate. It is not defying the ‘will of the people’ to believe that the Government is pursuing an unnecessarily extreme form of Brexit – there is no mandate for “rupture”. Its White Paper adopts a divisive ‘winner takes all’ approach, which threatens to perpetuate divisions and risks further alienating the Conservative Party’s natural supporters in business.
  • The Prime Minister has expressed a desire for “a new strategic partnership between Britain and the EU”, but has provided no clues about how this would be organised.   The Government’s determination to rule out preserving any aspects of the current relationship – such as membership of Euratom – seems driven by hostility towards the EU in particular and supranational institutions in general rather than a pragmatic pursuit of the national interest.
  • It is in Britain’s interest to preserve a uniquely close relationship with the EU through a new institutional relationship rather than ad hoc arrangements, with the fullest possible participation in the Single Market, continuing co-operation in areas like the environment, science and research, higher education and aviation, and the preservation of uniquely close working arrangements on security, crime and foreign policy. The volatile nature of the new US Administration and the aggressive behavior of Russia make this a bad time to reduce the ability of European countries to work closely together on foreign and security policy.
  • Negotiating a new ‘institutional relationship’ could build on ideas around ‘variable geometry’. Potential approaches worth exploring include an Association Agreement; the Continental Partnership idea championed by the think tank Bruegel; or the creation of a bespoke Britain-EU Partnership Council.
  • It is wrong to assume that it is impossible for Britain to retain Single Market membership whilst limiting freedom of movement. If negotiations are conducted in a constructive spirit, a grand bargain might yet be achieved. If Britain were, for example, willing to trade some influence over Single Market rules, then it might be possible to secure restrictions over freedom of movement such as an emergency brake, greater constraints on access to benefits and requiring job or study offers before people move to Britain.
  • It is unwise for Britain’s negotiating strategy to be driven by an ideological hostility to the European Court of Justice. It has been a good arbiter of Single Market rules and doesn’t deserve to be accorded ‘bogey man’ status. Any UK-EU Free Trade Agreement would involve accepting rulings by a supranational arbitrating authority.
  • Any EU Free Trade Agreement will fall far short of replicating the benefits of the Single Market, especially in services. Independent estimates warn that FTAs with new countries are unlikely to make a big impact in softening the impact of loss of Single Market membership. So if an exit from the Single Market becomes inevitable, the Government should negotiate a significant transitional period, during which Britain should retain its place in the European Economic Area (EEA). The UK would suffer more than the EU from a ‘train-crash’ Brexit.
  • The EU 27 also have a significant interest in a positive outcome. They should ask themselves whether an institutional, rather than ad hoc, relationship with Britain may facilitate a continuing alignment in areas like foreign policy. Similarly, they should consider whether helping Britain to meet its problems regarding migration may be a price worth paying for maintaining the current scope of the Single Market. Do they want, even unwittingly, to abet the nationalist elements in the UK by imposing a ‘hard’ Brexit which maximises the schism between Britain and the EU?
  • Some European politicians suggest that the costs of a ‘hard’ Brexit will be too high and that British opinion will ultimately demand that the country rescind its decision. They are almost certainly wrong. The more likely scenario would see the EU used as a scapegoat for Britain’s ills; so for the EU 27 to plan on the basis of a British change of heart would be a serious miscalculation.


CGE Chairman Neil Carmichael MP commented: “This publication is a powerful contribution to the necessary debate following the referendum decision as the period of negotiation under Article 50 begins. Securing the best possible deal for the UK is essential for peace, security and prosperity but the ultimate outcome must also enjoy widespread support in order to enable leavers and remainers to come together in the national interest. It should be studied with these objectives in mind.”

Bickham added: “Many statements from British Ministers have lacked empathy with our partners and failed to create the mutual confidence essential for successful negotiations. Many Continental leaders see the British approach as transactional, nationalistic and hostile to the EU.

“The Prime Minister has been disingenuous in simultaneously urging that the country should come together, whilst setting out negotiating objectives that polarise opinion. The Government is mistaken in its rigidity towards the ECJ, and its current approach is likely to cause serious economic dislocation and damage to employment, living standards and public services.

“The greatest weakness of the Government’s approach is that it is piecemeal. Like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz it lacks a heart. There is no vision for the new relationship: how it would work and how we would hope to have influence over the policies of our closest neighbours.

“Britain’s interests, values, security and prosperity are so inextricably linked with the countries of the EU that these must be managed in a structured way. Negotiating a new ‘institutional’ relationship will require goodwill and a longer-term strategic sense from both sides. Otherwise the real danger is that the negotiations will be hijacked by nationalist elements and that relations will be poisoned for a generation.”


The Conservative Group for Europe

Every Conservative Prime Minister, from Macmillan to Cameron, has recognised the importance of strong and committed British participation in European political and economic institutions. The Conservative Group for Europe was founded almost fifty years ago initially to campaign for British membership of the European Economic Community and thereafter for Britain to play a leading role in the European Union. Although we believe that the 2016 Referendum was a flawed process, Britain is now embarking on a course to leave the EU. The role of the CGE in these new circumstances is to campaign to preserve the fullest practicable political and economic co-operation between Britain and the EU in pursuit of our shared interests, prosperity and security.


President: The Rt Hon Kenneth Clarke QC MP   Vice Presidents: The Rt Hon Lord Inglewood DL, Robert Buckland QC, MP, John Bowis OBE

Chair: Neil Carmichael MP   Deputy Chair: The Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Soames MP Vice Chairs: Edward Bickham, David Melding AM

YCGE Chair: Alex O’Brien   Treasurer: Mark Leverton   Hon Secretary: Sarah Chilman   Membership: Liz Spencer

Patrons: The Rt Hon Lord Carrington KG CH KCMG MC, The Rt Hon Lord Deben, The Rt Hon Lord Heseltine of Thenford CH, The Rt Hon Lord Hunt of Wirral MBE, The Rt Hon Lord Hurd of Westwell CH CBE, Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate, The Rt Hon Sir John Major KG CH PC ACIB, The Rt Hon Lord Patten of Barnes CH, Lord Plumb of Coleshill DL, The Rt Hon Caroline Spelman MP, Tom Spencer, Ian Taylor MBE & Robert Walter

Download as .pdf


Neil Carmichael debates Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, RyanAir and Wetherspoons CEOs

Yesterday (Tuesday 31 May 2016) Conservative Group for Europe Chair, Neil Carmichael MP (Stroud), took part in a debate about the UK’s relationship with the European Union, with Michael O’Leary of Ryanair, Tim Martin of Wetherspoons and Jacob Rees-Mogg MP.

Neil said:

‘Every day there is more evidence that our membership of the EU – and our access to the European single market – is vitally important to our national well-being.

‘Only today (Wednesday 1 June), two more major players in our economy – and two more major providers of high-quality jobs in the UK economy – have expressed their strong support for our EU membership.

‘Firstly, Siemens Plc, which employs 14,000 people in this country, has reiterated its support for our EU membership and its fears about the future of our manufacturing base if we leave, having already commented that “a decision to stay in the EU would be the right one for Britain and for the economy, and it would make it far easier for Siemens to continue to invest in and grow our business in the UK”.

‘Secondly, and very close to home for me as MP for Stroud, there is my local employer Airbus UK, whose President Paul Kahn warned today: “The economic disruption and uncertainty that would accompany a leave vote would inevitably impact on long-term investment decisions and, in turn, future job creation in UK manufacturing”.

‘We also have the authoritative report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) out today, which shows that over 100,000 manufacturing jobs will be created in the UK by 2030 thanks to our access to the single market.

‘The evidence is overwhelming: Brexit would be a reckless gamble – a short-sighted, self-indulgent and reckless gamble with other people’s jobs and livelihoods.’

CGE BattleVan hits Derbyshire with Cabinet Minister Patrick McLoughlin

Matlock Bath, Derbyshire, saw the arrival of the CGE’s BattleVan, the Winner Wagon, on Sunday. Joining CGE Chair Neil Carmichael MP were Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin, and Sir David Scott, the former Conservative MP for Leek.

The Conservative Group for Europe’s BattleVan will be travelling the length and breadth of Britain making the case for Remain.

Voters engaged positively with CGE members present. Amongst the issues discussed was immigration. On that particular subject, Cabinet Minister Patrick McLoughlin said “even if we left the EU, we would still have to follow their rules. These include the free movement of people. Norway shows what it is like to be out. To trade with the EU it has to accept over 90% of the rules, but has no vote.”

Following the day’s campaigning, CGE Chair Neil Carmichael said “Overall support for the Remain campaign continues to be good, and we were able to persuade a decent number of people to vote Remain. It’s important we keep up the push ahead of June 23rd”

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Douglas Flint, Chair of HSBC UK, address CGE on the importance of the EU to the British economy

Douglas Flint, Chair of HSBC UK, this evening addressed members of the CGE on the importance of our EU membership to the British economy, and our financial services sector.

In a thirty minute speech, Mr Flint made a powerful case for our continued membership of the EU, covering a variety of topics; among others, the importance of the Single Market, European financial regulation, and Britain’s place in the European and world economies.

His speech was followed by a lively question and answer session.

Following the event, Mr Flint said: “HSBC’s economic research is very clear about the advantages of Britain being at the heart of a reformed EU. Important and unquantifiable risks arise from the potential impact on our customers of a vote to leave. We believe that the UK would enter a period of great economic uncertainty and should the UK economy slow and economic conditions deteriorate as our research suggests, in at least the short to medium term, this would affect many of our customers in the UK and the economic environment we operate in.

Additionally, Neil Carmichael MP, Chair of the CGE, said: “It’s been fantastic to have someone of Douglas’ knowledge, experience and stature address the CGE on the economic risks Britain faces in the event of Brexit. And now, with several important financial institutions endorsing our continued EU membership, I feel the economic case for ‘in’ has been won- we are stronger, safer, and better off in a reformed EU.

This event was kindly hosted by the Cicero Group.

Stanley Johnson addresses the CGE on the environmental case for Remain

Stanley Johnson, father of Boris, this evening addressed the Conservative Group for Europe, making the environmental case for staying in the European Union.

Touching on his experiences working as a journalist, at the UN, and as Head of the Prevention of Pollution Division within the European Commission, Mr Johnson made a powerful environmental case for our remaining within the EU.

In an informative and entertaining speech to members, Mr Johnson mentioned the many ways in which the EU has helped make the British economy ‘cleaner, greener, and leaner’.
His speech was followed by questions from the floor.

Summing up, Mr Johnson said: “it is precisely because of the support of EU law and institutions, that we bathe on cleaner beaches, drive more fuel-efficient cars and have cleaner air. Britain’s environment is better off in the EU, and it is for that reason, among others, that I will be voting ‘in’ on June 23rd.

Our EU membership is backed by several environmental campaigning groups, among them, The Wildlife Trusts, Friends of the Earth, and Greenpeace.