Steve Barclays rules out Swiss-style deal with EU
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Government sources have privately suggested moving towards the arrangement over the next 10 years to pursue frictionless trade with the bloc. Veteran Eurosceptic MP Sir Bill Cash branded the idea “completely absurd”, while senior backbencher Peter Bone declared the British people would not allow it after voting to leave the EU in 2016.
Former Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg said it would make trade deals with other countries around the world “ineffective” as the UK would be tied to EU laws.
Some MPs also fear the row could reopen old wounds within the party after years of infighting.
Sir Bill warned that Switzerland “absolutely hate” their arrangement with Brussels, saying they have been “harassed and bullied” by the bloc for “decades”.
Switzerland has access to the European single market through a series of bilateral agreements.
But Bern also contributes to the EU budget and has more liberal migration rules. Brussels is also pushing for the European Court of Justice to have greater oversight in the relationship.
Downing Street said: “This Government is focused on using our Brexit freedoms to create opportunities that drive growth and strengthen our economy.
“Brexit means we will never again have to accept a relationship with Europe that would see a return to freedom of movement, unnecessary payments to the European Union or jeopardise the full benefit of trade deals we are now able to strike around the world.”
Brexiteers on Sunday warned Prime Minister Rishi Sunak that he must not cave to people within Whitehall who want close regulatory alignment with the EU.
They warned the Government could do this by “mirroring” EU laws within UK law, or by failing to remove retained EU laws.
Sir Bill Cash said: “It is inconceivable that we will consider a Swiss-style deal. The Swiss absolutely hate it. They have resisted subjugation to the EU. This is a completely absurd idea. They have been harassed and bullied by the EU for decades.”
Former Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg said: “It would be a grave error and I assume it is not true.
“The advantage of Brexit is that we can diverge from anti-competitive, economically damaging EU rules.
“It would tie us to EU rules, making free trade deals elsewhere ineffective as well as preventing the supply side reforms we need for economic growth.
“Hence it would be a no-growth policy.”
Senior backbencher Peter Bone said: “There are certainly people in the Government who are remainers and would be attracted to this sort of thing.
“I just don’t think Conservative MPs, or the British people, would allow this because they have voted to come out.
“It is a reminder to Brexiteers that we must always be on guard against being taken back in through the back door. The Conservative Party would split and we would be thrown out at the next election.
“We are in effect the Brexit party. Even hinting that senior ministers don’t believe in it would have extraordinarily dark consequences.
“Certainly in my own constituency, I don’t detect there’s any movement to get closer to the EU.
“We need a clear statement from the Prime Minister that the report is nonsense.”
The UK is locked in long-running talks with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol, a post-Brexit arrangement for the region designed to avoid a border on the island of Ireland.
Unionists have opposed the protocol as impeding trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, placing a border in the Irish Sea.
This has resulted in the collapse of the Stormont Assembly, with top civil servants left to run government departments.
However, there have been renewed hopes in recent weeks that a deal can be secured and the relationship improved between the UK and the EU after years of tensions.
Some in the EU have suggested a Swiss-style deal as a solution to the row over the Northern Ireland protocol.
Former Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox: “There were always some ‘senior ministers’ who preferred a Swiss solution post-Brexit. That was not our settled policy. Time to put these ideas to bed and get on with the job in hand.”
Former work and pensions secretary Chloe Smith said that seeking a new Swiss-style arrangement would not be a “wise path” for the Government.
“I don’t think that would be a particularly wise path at this time,” she told Times Radio.
Simon Clarke, the former levelling up secretary, was also among those to criticise the idea.
The Tory MP tweeted: “I very much hope and believe this isn’t something under consideration. We settled the question of leaving the European Union, definitively, in 2019.”
Health Secretary Steve Barclay, himself a former Brexit Secretary, dismissed claims the Government was pursuing a Swiss-style relationship.
He said: “We’ve got a Prime Minister who himself supported Brexit.
“I myself did and was Brexit secretary, and worked very hard to maximise our control of our laws, our borders and our money,” the former Brexit secretary told the Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme on Sky News.
“So, it’s absolutely important, particularly in those high-growth sectors, such as financial services, life sciences and the green industries, that we really use the Brexit freedoms we have.
“So, I don’t recognise this story at all.”
Asked if he could support a Swiss-style relationship, he said: “Well, I didn’t support that. I want to maximise the opportunities that Brexit offers.”
Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme earlier this week, Hunt rejected the prospect of rejoining the single market but backed working to strengthen Britain’s relationship with Brussels.
He said: “I think having unfettered trade with our neighbours and countries all over the world is very beneficial to growth.
“I have great confidence that over the years ahead we will find, outside the single market, we are able to remove the vast majority of the trade barriers that exist between us and the EU.”
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