EU Referendum

Vote Leave confident of tariff-free trade deal after EU exit

Matthew Elliott Image copyright House of Commons

The UK is in a "unique position" to negotiate a tariff-free trade deal with the EU after leaving, a senior figure in the Vote Leave campaign has said.

The UK had a trade deficit with many of Europe's key economies and there was no incentive for them to "retaliate" via trade barriers, Matthew Elliot said.

Angela Merkel would not want UK markets "cut off" to German firms, he told MPs.

But Tory MP Mark Garnier said Leave backers were "deliberately obsfucating" free trade and tariff-free trade.

He said countries such as Norway and Iceland, which are outside the EU, have theoretically got free access to European markets, but still have to pay substantial trade penalties on certain exports.

Leave campaigners argue the UK could have the best of both worlds after leaving the EU's single market of 500 million customers, by no longer having to abide by EU law or freedom of movement rules but still being able to have unfettered access to European markets.

Mr Elliott, who is chief executive of the campaign group backing Brexit, told the Treasury Select Committee - which is looking into the financial arguments surrounding EU membership - that the UK was the "biggest customer" for many European countries and therefore in a "better position" to negotiate an advantageous deal than countries such as Norway and Iceland.

Image copyright House of Commons
Image caption Mr Tyrie said he wanted to put on public record how dissatisfied he was with Vote Leave

"I think we are in an uniquely good position to get an extremely good trade deal," he said. "I think because we are moving from a situation where we are part of the single market already, I think we will continue to have full levels of access to the single market outside the EU."

He added: "The UK, as the second largest economy in the EU and the biggest export market for the rest of the EU, we will have tariff-free access to the rest of the EU when we vote to leave. I believe that will happen."

Mr Elliott said the realities of trade were being somewhat ignored as the campaign intensified and claimed that Lord Rose, one of his opponents in the Remain camp, had acknowledged the likelihood of reprisals from EU members was remote.

"We are their biggest customer. To quote that Stuart Rose said, you put your arm round your biggest customer and make sure you keep them close to you. I believe they would do that...I am actually very confident that we will get that tariff-free access."

'Golden model'

But Mr Garnier said he knew no other country which had the "golden model" of EU relations that Vote Leave aspired to and if it left the EU, the UK would probably be subject to WTO regulations.

"I don't see how anybody would possibly give us that trade deal," he said. "Of course we can trade with anyone we like. Free trade arrangements does not necessarily mean it is tariff-free in all goods.

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"You talk about a European free trade zone as if it a non-tariff zone, it is not a non-tariff zone."This whole debate about free trade, trading freely, free trade arrangements and access to the single market, is to my mind deliberately obfuscating the whole debate.

Earlier during Monday's hearing, Mr Elliott was chastised by MPs for what they said was his reluctance to appear before them.

Conservative MP Andrew Tyrie, who chairs the committee, said Mr Elliott had "sailed close to the wind" by turning down three opportunities to give evidence, forcing the committee to summon him to do so by parliamentary order.

Mr Tyrie said Mr Elliott had "mucked around" the committee by declining to reschedule a trip to Switzerland and opting not to attend alongside rival campaign group Leave.EU.

Mr Elliott said he had had to turn down the first invitation for personal reasons and had suggested other senior members of Vote Leave, such as former chancellor Lord Lawson, who might attend in his place. He said he "regretted" how long it had taken to arrange.

But Mr Tyrie said it was a "matter for Parliament, not for you" who MPs called to give evidence while Mr Garnier said the former chief executive of the Taxpayers Alliance had shown "extraordinary contempt" for Parliament.

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