Street property has labeled a report “categorically untrue” that Rishi Sunak’s government is considering moving the UK towards a Swiss relationship with the EU.
The Sunday Times reported that the move could take place in the next decade as the government pursues a closer relationship with the EU that avoids current trade barriers.
The Conservative government’s alleged change of heart just a few years after Boris Johnson struck a deal with the EU after years of back and forth negotiations, raised eyebrows in Westminster.
Such a move would also likely shake up the Tory Brexiteers in the backseat and relive many of the debates of the past six years.
But a government spokesman labeled the story “categorically untrue”.
The spokesman said: “This government is focused on using our Brexit freedoms to create opportunities that will boost growth and strengthen our economy.
“Brexit means we never again have to accept a relationship with Europe that would lead to a return to free movement, unnecessary payments to the European Union or completely jeopardize the trade deals we can now make around the world.”
We have a prime minister who himself supported Brexit. I myself did and was Brexit secretary, working very hard to maximize our control over our laws, our borders and our money
Health Secretary Steve Barclay had previously maintained he did not recognize such a report when touring broadcast studios.
The Times suggested that some in the government have indicated behind closed doors that pursuing a frictionless trade relationship with the bloc requires moving to a Swiss-style arrangement over the next 10 years.
According to the newspaper, this would not extend to a return to freedom of movement.
“We have a prime minister who himself supported Brexit. I myself did and was Brexit secretary, and have worked very hard to maximize our control over our laws, our borders and our money,” the former Brexit secretary told the Sophy Ridge on Sunday program on Sky News.
“So it is absolutely important, especially in those high-growth sectors, such as financial services, life sciences and the green industries, that we really use the Brexit freedoms that we have.
“So I don’t recognize this story at all.”
Asked if he could support a Swiss-style relationship, he said: “Well, I wasn’t there for that. I want to maximize the opportunities that Brexit offers.”
Switzerland and the EU have a close economic relationship based on a series of bilateral agreements, giving the country direct access to parts of the EU’s internal market, including the free movement of people.
The UK is in long-running talks with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol, a post-Brexit arrangement for the region designed to avoid a border with the island of Ireland.
Unionists have opposed the protocol on the grounds that it hinders trade between Northern Ireland and Britain and places a border in the Irish Sea.
This has resulted in the collapse of the Stormont Assembly, with top officials leaving to head government departments.
However, in recent weeks there has been renewed hope that after years of tension a deal can be struck and relations between the UK and the EU improved.
A Swiss-style veterinary deal is one of the options put forward by some on the EU side as a solution to the protocol dispute, while in the years following the Brexit vote, a deal inspired by the Swiss-EU relationship has been seen as one of many options for the UK after it voted to leave the bloc.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt admitted this week that Johnson’s Brexit deal created damaging trade barriers with the European Union, saying immigration will be “very important” to the economy.
Mr Hunt also pushed for the UK to find a way to improve trade relations with the EU without re-entering the single market.
Former Work and Pensions Minister Chloe Smith said on Sunday that seeking a new Swiss-style scheme would not be a “sensible course of action” for the government.
“I don’t think that would be a particularly sensible course of action at this point,” she told Times Radio.
“I think the government has already responded to those specific ideas this morning, and I don’t believe that’s an idea that has been adopted.”
Simon Clarke, the level’s former secretary, was also among those who criticized the idea.
The Tory MP tweeted: “I very much hope and believe this is not something that is being considered.
“We have finally resolved the issue of leaving the European Union in 2019.”
Lord Frost, the former chief Brexit negotiator, also tweeted that he hopes if the report is correct “the government will soon think more carefully about these plans”.
Shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Ashworth told Sky News that Labor does not want to re-enter the EU’s single market, nor will it try to adopt a set of Swiss-style schemes.
He said: “We are not proposing a return to the single market or the customs union or anything like that.
“But we do want to negotiate a bespoke deal for the UK so our companies can export so we can get those agreements on agriculture so we can work together on security issues.”