Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has ruled out any Swiss-style deal to remove trade barriers with the EU, with eurosceptic Conservative MPs claiming that Chancellor Jeremy Hunt was trying to soften Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal.
Sunak insisted at the CBI conference in Birmingham that Johnson’s “core” Brexit deal – the Trade and Cooperation Agreement – could “bring enormous benefits to the country”.
But some Conservative MPs believe Hunt, who supported Remain in the 2016 Brexit referendum and wants the “vast majority” of UK-EU trade barriers removed, is pushing for a softer form of Brexit.
Downing Street said on Monday that Sunak would not support a “Swiss-style deal” with the EU, ruling out any compliance with EU rules and rejecting the free movement of people, the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and any “unnecessary payments” to Brussels.
The TCA removes quotas and tariffs from most trade but leaves significant regulatory hurdles in place, due to Britain’s exclusion from the single market. The independent Office for Budget Responsibility said last week that Brexit had caused a “significant negative impact on trade”.
Last week Hunt told the BBC that “unrestricted trade” with neighbors was “very good for growth”, but refused to say how the government might remove such barriers when outside the single market.
“I have great confidence that over the coming years we will find, outside the single marketWe are able to remove the vast majority of trade barriers that exist between us and the European Union.
Downing Street refused to repeat Hunt’s call for the “vast majority” of barriers to trade between the UK and the EU to be removed, acknowledging that the EU had made it clear that Britain would pay the price for the “hard” Brexit negotiated by Johnson.
Downing Street dismissed a report by the Sunday Times that the UK was considering a Swiss-style trade relationship with the EU, saying instead that regulatory freedom represented an important Brexit opportunity.
Sunak He said: “Let me be blunt. Under my leadership, the UK will not seek any relationship with Europe that is dependent on conforming to EU rules. I voted for Brexit. I believe in Brexit. Brexit can save The European Union has enormous advantages and opportunities for the country.
Pro-Brexit MPs have been reassured in part by Downing Street’s insistence that it will not seek a Swiss-style deal, but many suspect Hunt will try to push government policy towards a softer exit from the European Union.
A former government minister said: “Rishi has been a Leave supporter, which gives him a lot of credibility. But there is less confidence about Jeremy’s Brexit credentials. His instincts always seem to run towards a closer alliance with the EU.”
David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, said: “The general direction of travel will be towards a long overdue relaxation of UK-EU relations given recent tensions. But the UK will never be in a Swiss-style deal with the EU.”
A senior Tory member said: “There is concern among the Brexiteers that the establishment has now taken back control. I and many others have never considered Rishi a true Brexiter. The fact that it is our chancellor who remains is also a cause for concern.”
Another senior member of the Eurosceptic European Research Group said: “It is clear that the chancellor and Sunak have different views on the EU and Brexit, but the prime minister seems to be asserting himself on this issue.”
Hunt’s allies say the chancellor is committed to exploiting the opportunities presented by Johnson’s Brexit deal – not to searching for a new paradigm – while both the Treasury and Number 10 deny any difference of approach on the issue.
“Infuriatingly humble alcohol fanatic. Unapologetic beer practitioner. Analyst.”