The Chequers Brexit plan looks like a Cabinet “sellout” and “capitulation” to the European Union, Tory MPs warned the International Trade Secretary.
Liam Fox said the agreement, which sparked the resignations of Boris Johnson and David Davis, was designed to be a “credible offer” to Brussels to allow negotiations to make progress.
He warned EU leaders the “pain” of failing to reach a deal would not be spread evenly across the bloc and could harm them electorally.
But at a Commons committee hearing, Conservatives suggested the plan agreed on Friday was a ploy to keep the UK in the customs union.
Julia Lopez questioned whether the common rule book described in the Chequers plan was an “honest term”.
The Tory MP suggested the EU would hold more sway and would be tempted to introduce measures that would be harmful to the UK.
“Do you not think it would be more honest to call it an EU rule book that the UK applies?” she asked.
Dr Fox rejected the claim and insisted that Parliament would have a lock on whether to accept new directives “unlike the current system”.
He told MPs the Government believes “it is possible” to negotiate free trade deals after Brexit under the plans.
But that will “depend on the European Union’s response”, he told the International Trade Committee.
And he said it was “impossible” to say whether Brussels was likely to accept the proposals.
He told MPs the “pain that would occur would not be evenly spread across Europe” and could have a disproportionate impact on the economies of countries like the Netherlands, Belgium and Ireland.
“It needs to be about the actual countries, with elected governments that need to get prosperity and jobs and trade if those politicians want to get re-elected,” he said.
Tory Nigel Evans said Olly Robbins, the PM’s top EU adviser, appears to have “taken control of the entire negotiation” and “rammed us further away from the Brexit” people voted for.
He said: “There’s an assumption that there’s now been a capitulation and a sellout by the Cabinet to the European Union.”
Conservative MP Marcus Fysh said Chancellor Philip Hammond wants the UK to stay in a customs union and suggested the Chequers plan was a ploy to make that happen.
He said: “Is this set up to fail so that we stay in a customs union?”
Dr Fox replied: “If we are unable to get an agreement then we will leave with no deal.”
The Chequers deal met everything they had been asked to do, including ending free movement and European jurisdiction and stopping payments to the EU, he said.
He added: “Free movement would not be acceptable. To have free movement would, in my view, be a betrayal of what the people voted for in the referendum.”
The Cabinet minister said service agreements nearly always allow “some mode for movement that goes with that” but that was a “million miles away” from EU free movement.
Asked if any EU citizen with a job offer would be able to move to Britain after Brexit, he replied: “That’s dependent on what the Government determines of its post-EU migration policy.”
Dr Fox said he would be meeting Donald Trump during his visit to the UK.