Theresa May’s approach to Brexit has been condemned by pro-EU Conservatives who accused the Government of siding with Brexit “zealots” rather than seeking continued close ties to Brussels.
The Conservative Group for Europe (CGE) policy paper claimed the Government had adopted an “intimidatory” approach towards critics and warned that there was a high chance that Brexit would cause “significant damage” to both the UK and European Union.
The strongly-worded report warned that the Prime Minister’s approach risked fuelling momentum for Scottish independence and undermining the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland.
The paper warned: “As Britain starts the process of withdrawal from the European Union, the prospects are high that the outcome of the exit negotiations will cause significant damage to the political and economic interests of both Britain and the EU.
“There is a real danger that if these negotiations go awry, our relationships may be blighted for a generation.”
It said the EU referendum was decided by a “narrow majority”, but the Government had adopted a “somewhat intimidatory stance” towards its critics by claiming the public vote had given ministers a mandate to pursue an “unnecessarily extreme form of Brexit”.
The white paper setting out Mrs May’s plans was “designed to delight Brexit zealots” but risked alienating the Tory’s natural supporters in the business community, it said.
Noting that Scotland and Northern Ireland voted Remain, the paper said the “seeming insensitivity” to their concerns “may give the Scottish nationalists the sense of grievance they have been seeking to give momentum to the cause of independence”.
It also warned about the impact in Northern Ireland, particularly if a “hard” border was established with the Republic of Ireland.
The document, written by CGE vice-chairman Edward Bickham and endorsed by the group’s chairman and senior Tory MP Neil Carmichael, mocked Mrs May’s insistence that “no deal” with the EU would be better than a “bad deal”.
“Theoretically she is right, but only if the ‘bad deal’ is in compulsory slaughter of the first-born territory. We are fooling ourselves - and the Government would be fooling the British people - if we fail to understand that a default to trading with out biggest (and currently most closely integrated) trading partners on the basis of WTO rules would be profoundly damaging.”
The report paper said it would be in the interests of both sides to keep Britain within the single market, an option ruled out by the Prime Minister, or “if that ultimately proves impossible, to plan an extended transition whilst Britain remains in the European Economic Area”.
Stroud MP Mr Carmichael said: “This publication is a powerful contribution to the necessary debate following the referendum decision as the period of negotiation under Article 50 begins.
“Securing the best possible deal for the UK is essential for peace, security and prosperity but the ultimate outcome must also enjoy widespread support in order to enable leavers and remainers to come together in the national interest. It should be studied with these objectives in mind.”