The UK should consider the option of becoming a member of an existing European free trade bloc as a potential fallback during the Brexit negotiations, British ministers have recommended.
In a new report from the influential Exiting the European Union Committee, which comprises MPs from a range of political parties, the government has been called upon to view continued membership of the European Economic Area (EEA), or joining the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), as possible outcomes that would ensure UK businesses retain access to the EU market.
Brexit secretary David Davis has previously ruled out both options, referring to EEA and EFTA membership as the "worst of all outcomes", as this would involve the UK remaining largely beholden to EU regulations, but without the voting rights that come with EU membership. As such, he is hoping to negotiate a bespoke free trade deal that alters the UK-EU relationship in a more fundamental way.
However, the committee suggested that EFTA/EEA membership could be seen as an alternative if this effort falls through, as this would ensure continuity of market access for UK services and could be negotiated relatively quickly.
The report also set out a number of key criteria that a future Brexit deal must meet in order to be deemed worthy of support, including the maintenance of free trade, data sharing and regulatory collaboration, as well as the retention of an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Committee chair Hilary Benn said: "Our tests set a high bar, but they are based on the prime minister's vision for our future outside the EU, and the statement by ... David Davis that any new deal would be at least as good as what we have now.
"It is vital that UK businesses are able to continue to trade freely and sell services into our largest market after we leave, without additional costs or burdens or a hard border in Northern Ireland."