Does the government think Single Market membership is "highly improbable"? It depends who you ask...

Mark Sands
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Theresa May Visits The West Midlands
Downing Street has refused to back a senior minister's views on Single Market membership (Source: Getty)

Confusion has broken out over the government's stance on Single Market membership after Downing Street refused to back the Brexit minister's views on Europe.

Brexit minister David Davis made his first ministerial statement since being appointed May's secretary of state for exiting the European Union yesterday.

And responding to a question from former small business minister Anna Soubry, now on the backbenches, Davis said it would be “highly improbable” for the UK to retain Single Market membership if it was also unable to secure immigration reform.

May has made reforms to immigration a critical part of the Brexit agenda, saying that changes to freedom of movement “must be something we deliver on”.

Read More: Four ways the City can shape Brexit to its advantage

But with the Prime Minister returning from the G20 in China today, Downing Street refused to endorse Davis' view, stating instead that the Brexit minister was delivering “his view” from the despatch box in the House of Commons.

“The Prime Minister wants to have the work underway and she recognises that people have differing views...and all of this is going to be negotiated with our European partners but we should go after the best deal that we can,” May's spokeswoman said.

Pressed on whether Davis' statement was reflective of government policy, she added: “Policy tends to be a direction of travel you're doing. Saying something is probable or improbable is not necessarily policy.”

Tory grandee and former chancellor Lord Nigel Lawson is among those who back the stance of the Brexit secretary, arguing last week that the UK would have to be outside of the Single Market.

However, top City officials have argued that easy access to Europe's markets should be the top priority for government negotiators, with Lloyd's of London chair John Nelson yesterday arguing that London's status as a global insurance leader is at risk in the wake of the Brexit vote.

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