Becoming a ‘second-class’ member of the European Union doesn’t sound awfully appealing on first glance at today’s Times story.

But the ‘associate membership’ being considered by the Union of European Federalists would see Britain remain in the single market but lose its commissioner in Brussels and eventually its MEPs, too. Those drawing up this version of the new treaty also envisage that there would continue to be a seat at the Court of Justice for Britain.

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The big question for the eurosceptics I’ve spoken to this morning is whether Britain could have what one Tory MP described as a common market, rather than single market agreement, whereby it abides by EU trade regulations when doing business with France, for example, but is not subject to those regulations when manufacturing goods for trade with the US or China. If this were not possible, the fear is that the ‘associate’ membership really would be second-class: a Norway-style arrangement where Britain is still subject to legislation from Brussels without having any say in its development.

Mark Pritchard says:

‘The UK should be free to trade with Europe but not shackled by the strictures and myriad of regulations of the single market. Remaining with a single market would on the surface look attractive, but in reality would do little to repatriate commercial and business sovereignty and improve the UK’s own competitiveness.

‘The UK needs to be free to be part of ‘a’ single global market, not ‘the’ single EU market. The single market is increasingly uncompetitive, runs exceptionally high unit costs, and is being driven down a unsustainable ‘business pays for all’ model. It is still possible to trade with Europe without being hamstrung by the single market. David Cameron’s speech is unlikely to satisfy Eurosceptic voters if he just offers political phantoms; something they will see straight through.’

Meanwhile, Douglas Carswell says he doesn’t ‘think there’s anything second tier or second class’ about a common market proposal.

What is significant about this is that, in spite of many, many toys flying out of many prams over the past week, there are those in Europe – like Jacques Delors – who realise the peril of a Brexit, and who want to draw up plans to avoid that. As I blogged last week, their fear of Britain leaving the EU should make David Cameron confident as he puts the finishing touches to his Europe speech that he can take a robust line in negotiations with Brussels.

Tags: European Union, Single market, UK politics