When Britain negotiated its exit from the EU, a concurrent exit from the single market was a red line in negotiations – but the prospect deeply divided the political spectrum. Those in support argued that it allowed the UK to negotiate global trade deals freely, while those opposed said it locked Britain out of the source of its own thriving economy.
Now, on the cusp of yet another political overhaul as the Conservative Party elect their new leader and the nation’s next Prime Minister, attention is turning to what form Brexit will take under new leadership.
READ MORE: Tory leadership LIVE: Boris loyalists officially back key Brexiteer as they turn on Sunak
Speaking on the political commentary podcast The Rest is Politics on the day of Boris Johnson’s resignation, former Prime Minister hopeful and ardent Remainer Rory Stewart said that the UK could be ready for a “customs union Brexit”.
He said: “If you were trying to rebuild the British economy, a big customs union pitch could be a central part of rebuilding confidence.”
He explained to co-host Alastair Campbell: “Now people can see that the problems we are facing particularly with Northern Ireland but also the problems we are facing with trade.
“We can see that the benefits of these independent trading deals have been incredibly small and we are looking for a confident story.
“And finally, we can now see that because of what’s happened with Russia-Ukraine that the ERG gamble that they could give up trading with Europe in order to trade with China…looks very dodgy now.
“Nobody wants to be exposed and totally reliant on trade with China, in fact almost all countries are trying to reduce their reliance on China.”
Following Boris Johnson’s resignation, the UK has an opportunity to reset relations with the European Union.
This means that a new Prime Minister could seek to rejoin the single market, customs union and even the European Union just two years after the UK became independent.
Michel Barnier, the French official who negotiated the Brexit deal on behalf of the EU, said: “The departure of Boris Johnson opens a new page in relations with the UK.
“May it be more constructive, more respectful of commitments made, in particular regarding peace and stability in Northern Ireland, and more friendly with partners in EU.”
The UK’s decision to leave the European Union six years ago meant that following the Brexit transition period the UK would no longer be part of the single market.
The single market allows for free movement of goods, people, services and capital between EU member countries and nations within the European Economic Area such as Norway and Iceland.
Northern Ireland remains in the single market and under EU regulation as part of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Mr Johnson’s successor will be tasked with resolving the EU’s border with the UK on the island of Ireland.
Brussels has insisted a border must exist between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland for the sake of the single market without threatening the Good Friday Agreement.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer ruled out the prospect of Labour rejoining the single market and described it as a “recipe for more division” last week.
In a speech at the Centre for European Reform thinktank, he said that joining the single market “would distract us from taking on the challenges facing people, and it would ensure Britain remained stuck for another decade.”
So what do YOU think? Should the next Prime Minister seek to rejoin the single market? Vote in our poll and join the debate in the comment section below.