A prominent Brexiteer has admitted the UK should have stayed in the EU single market after Brexit.
Lord Daniel Hannan, a former Tory MEP who was one of the founders of the Vote Leave Campaign, has now claimed it would have saved “a lot of trouble”.
Writing for the Telegraph, however, he said that going back now would be “madness”.
“Staying in the single market, or large parts of it, would have saved us a lot of trouble,” he said.
"Had we declared, immediately after the 2016 vote, that we intended to return to the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) - the body we founded in 1960 as an alternative to the EEC - we would not have been at risk of an EU trade embargo. The withdrawal issues, notably the management of the Irish border, would have been much more easily resolved.”
Lord Hanna said he would have preferred a “Swiss-type accommodation,” but in 2015 before the Brexit vote he claimed no one had been talking about leaving the single market.
He said pro-Brexit voters had often complained that being part of the EU was supposed to be an admission to a common market, not a common government.
Despite this, he said the polarised nature of the Brexit campaign meant “positions hardened on both sides”.
"Even as the results came in, I still expected an outcome that was broadly à la Suisse - inside many of the EU's economic structures, but outside its political structures and its Customs Union,” he said.
With Therese May, who had been a Remainer, succeeding David Cameron as Prime Minister he said a smooth Brexit process ultimately ended up as a “culture war”.
“An opportunity was lost - and lost permanently,” he said.
Staying in the single market, he said, would have helped to ease the Brexit transition and “spare us a lot of broken friendships...that moment has now passed”.
He explained the Britain paid a steep price for total regulatory freedom during the withdrawal talks.
“To have made that payment but now not to use the freedom would be senseless,” he said.
Summarising the current situation, he said that the UK opted for “complete autonomy” in every sphere.
This included independent food standards, but this means checks at EU borders but also being allowed to sign more ambitious trade deals.
Having independent financial service rules, he said, means the loss of automatic passporting at the EU border, but that also allows the sector to become more internationally competitive.
Independent migration rules have resulted in labour shortages, and a more complicated life for UK citizens on the European continent who need to access local welfare services.
An upside, he added, was to have a points-based system to attract global talent.
Lord Hannan said the big problem was that despite choosing total freedom that costs short term pain, the UK has done little to use that freedom.
He cited disappointing trade talks with Australia and New Zealand and little change to financial regulations.
Concluding, he said: “Brexit could have created a freer, more prosperous and more global Britain. Instead, we are pursuing semi-socialist economic policies, which poll well in the short-term, but condemn us to long-term poverty."