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Hard Brexit: New Tory minister slaps down Cabinet colleagues trying to soften Theresa May's exit plans

The Independent logo The Independent 05/07/2017 Rob Merrick

© Provided by Independent Print Limited New minister Steve Baker has slapped down colleagues trying to avert a hard Brexit, insisting there will be no compromise on Theresa May’s plans.

It would be fatal show of weakness – “like putting blood in the water” – to let Brussels believe Britain is stepping back from the Prime Minister’s hardline proposals, set out in January, he warned.

Mr Baker admitted to Cabinet divisions on the terms of Brexit since the election weakened Ms May, saying: “It is the case that some people would like to reinvent things.”

“That is a major strategic decision for our country and the last thing we need to do now is take a misstep.

“One of those missteps would be to divert from the policy that was set out in the Lancaster House speech and the white paper.”

The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, is leading a push by some Cabinet ministers for a lengthy transitional period, to avoid a disastrous “cliff edge” for businesses from crashing out of the EU with no trade deal.

One option might be a Norway-style arrangement, keeping Britain in the European Economic Area (EEA) and, therefore, within the EU single market.

However, critics argue that would mean Britain being forced to accept trading rules, without helping to make them, as well as free movement of EU citizens.

“It's like putting blood in the water to even talk about the EEA,” Mr Baker told the BBC Radio 4's World At One programme.

“We don't want to be a rule taker, for all the reasons that David Cameron gave during the referendum. We mustn't take up some of those ideas.”

Mr Baker was giving his first major interview since his surprise appointment – taken as a clear signal that Ms May is determined to press ahead with a hard Brexit.

As The Independent revealed, the former head of the anti-EU European Research Group of Tory MPs was filmed calling for the destruction of the European Union.

Mr Baker said the EU should be “wholly torn down”, before branding it an “obstacle” to world peace and “incompatible” with a free society.

Conservative MPs warned his appointment risked the UK's ability to secure good Brexit terms, while Labour said it was “extraordinary” and raised questions about the Prime Minister's judgement.

Many at Westminster doubt that Ms May can keep together a government that includes hardliners such as Mr Baker and “soft Brexit” advocates including the Chancellor.

Mr Hammond’s officials have written an unpublished paper that challenges the Department of International Trade (DIT) over its bid to prioritise trade deals outside the EU.

The Treasury will demand to see proof that agreements with non-EU countries can outweigh the loss of European trade from leaving the customs union.

Mr Hammond hopes to use the findings of that paper to press his case for staying within the customs union, at least for a transitional period.

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