Speaking on Monday at the annual Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, Raab warned the EU – and his divided party – that the country will leave the bloc without a deal rather than accept continued close adherence to its rules and obligations.
If the EU tries to “lock us in via the back door” by keeping Britain in the bloc’s single market or customs union, “then we will be left with no choice but to leave without a deal”, he said.
Raab said it was “unthinkable” that the UK government could be bullied by the threat of an economic embargo by the EU and promised to deliver Brexit on the terms of the June 2016 referendum.
“I find it hard to believe that [the EU] would, for narrow political ends, seek to punish Britain in such a crass and counterproductive way,” he said.
In his upbeat address, Raab spoke of the UK’s culture of innovation and framed leaving the EU as an opportunity for securing new trade partnerships, calling Brexit a “springboard to a buccaneering embrace of free trade”.
The minister, who described himself as a “stubborn optimist”, also used his speech to call for unity in his party, which has been increasingly divided since Prime Minister Theresa May announced the “Chequers Agreement” – a roadmap for the post-Brexit relationship between the UK and EU – in July.
Several cabinet ministers, including Raab’s predecessor David Davis, resigned over the proposal and continue to criticise it publicly.
“We’ve had our arguments, but now is the time to put them behind us, now is the time to come together, because this is a moment for the optimists,” he said.
Raab brushed aside calls for a second referendum or “People’s Vote” if the final Brexit deal is rejected by parliament, saying that disrespecting the results of the Brexit referendum risked leading the UK down the path of extremism.
“Trust in our democracy would all but vanish […] If there’s mass dissolusion with the system, it’s the populous – the far left, the alt right – who will reap the reward, as they have in other countries where the establishment have ignored people’s concerns,” he said.
During Monday’s speech, Raab also attacked the opposition Labour Party who, at their own annual conference in September voted to back a second referendum, criticising leader Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell for hijacking the party.
“They’re using all the tools in the extremist armoury: intimidation, fantasism, scapegoating – especially against the Jews”.
Corybn and his party are currently embroiled in an anti-Semitism scandal centring on Corbyn’s initial refusal to accept the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-semitism and his attendance at a wreath-laying ceremony in Tunisia in 2014.