New Tory Brexit war as ministers warn against 'Swiss-style' ties

Tory civil war on Brexit reignites over plan for ‘Swiss-style’ deal: Ministers deny claims that No 10 is mulling closer ties with the EU that could mean accepting bloc’s law, paying into Brussels coffers and higher immigration

  • Reports suggest the government is considering a Swiss approach to help trade
  • But Tory Brexiteers are fuming and say it would be a ‘betrayal’ of Brexit freedoms
  • Chancellor has said the single market and freedom of movement is off the table 
  • Jacob Rees-Mogg said such a Swiss-style deal would be ‘Brexit in name only’ 

The Tories descended into a fresh bout of Brexit wars today as ministers warned they will not back a push for ‘Swiss-style’ ties with the EU.

Government sources have been signalling that Switzerland’s relationship with the bloc could be a model for the UK over the next decade.

However, despite claims free movement would not return there are fears the UK could end up accepting EU law, paying into Brussels coffers and facing higher immigration.  

Health Secretary Steve Barclay tried to pour cold water on the reports in the Sunday Times this morning, telling Sky News’ Ridge on Sunday programme: ‘I do not support that. I want to maximise the opportunities that Brexit offers.’

Mr Barclay pointed out that Mr Sunak himself was a strong Brexiteer. 

Tory MPs warned against a ‘betrayal’ of the 2016 referendum result. Former Cabinet Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg said the Conservatives are a ‘Brexit party’ and would risk becoming a ‘non-Brexit party’ if it agreed to ‘unfettered’ trade with the EU.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt raised eyebrows last week by saying he wants to remove trade barriers with Brussels as part of efforts to boost the economy.

Although he stressed that did not mean rejoining the single market, sources told the Sunday Times that Switzerland’s arrangements could be a model.

Downing Street sources rejected the claims. 

Health Secretary Steve Barclay tried to pour cold water on the reports of a Swiss-style approach, telling Sky News’ Ridge on Sunday programme: ‘I do not support that. I want to maximise the opportunities that Brexit offers.’

Senior figures in Rishi Sunak’s government are said to be considering a Swiss-style deal – a report the government does not recognise

Former Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg said: ‘This would be Brexit in name only – it would basically take the teeth out of Brexit and does not even replace it with dentures’

The speculation emerged as the UK remains in deadlock talks with the EU over the Northern Ireland protocol. 

Switzerland and the EU have a close economic relationship based on a series of bilateral agreements, giving the country direct access to most of the EU’s single market – but without being in the customs union. 

It accepts free movement of people, but the source told the newspaper they believe it would not be necessary for the UK.

Switzerland also contributes to Brussels budgets and accepts EU law. 

One MP told The Mail on Sunday: ‘It didn’t take long for the mask to slip. 

‘This is a total betrayal. The ERG [European Research Group of eurosceptic Tory MPs] must fight this tooth and nail.’

Mr Rees-Mogg said: ‘This would be Brexit in name only – it would basically take the teeth out of Brexit and does not even replace it with dentures.

‘If we did this, all the benefits of regulatory divergence would be lost. There would be no point trying to do trade deals around the world because we would have no regulatory flexibility and we would have no say over the rules.

‘The Conservative Party is a Brexit party and it cannot become a non-Brexit party.’

Tory MP Peter Bone said: ‘The party wouldn’t wear this. If you’ve fought an Election to get out of the EU, you’ve won an 80-seat majority and you’ve won a referendum on it, there is no chance that this would be acceptable.

‘If the Government tried to do this the party would split both within the House of Commons and the country. It’s pure madness. Having said that, I’ve not heard a single person suggest it.’

Former Brexit Minister David Jones condemned the plan as ‘100 per cent anathema to Brexit’.

Mr Jones added: ‘The fact is that Switzerland is involved in perpetual negotiations with the EU on every facet of market rules. We simply cannot accept that here.’

Switzerland has access to the European single market, a deal on freedom of movement of people, and makes payments to the EU budget.

This was also an approach that Mr Johnson and Lord Frost, his chief Brexit negotiator, ruled out when they drew up the UK’s negotiating mandate in 2020.

Lord Frost told the Sunday Times: ‘Any approach requiring the UK to align with EU rules to get trade benefits, whether as part of a Swiss-style approach or any other, would be quite unacceptable.

‘Boris Johnson and I fought very hard to avoid any such requirements in 2020 and ensure the UK could set its own laws, and we should not contemplate giving this away in future.’

Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, has signalled that Rishi Sunak’s administration intends to break from the approach adopted by Mr Johnson and remove the vast majority of trade barriers with the bloc.

In private, senior government sources have suggested that pursuing frictionless trade requires moving towards a Swiss-style relationship, the paper reported.

‘I think having unfettered trade with our neighbours and countries all over the world is very beneficial to growth,’ he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

‘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. It will take time.’

Lord Frost said that the shift in policy would be ‘unacceptable’ after he worked in tandem to negotiate with the EU alongside Boris Johnson

The plan, designed to foster closer economic ties with the bloc, would represent a major break with the approach adopted by Boris Johnson

His comments caused alarm among members of the European Research Group (ERG) who led the battle for Brexit.

The group also fears that the government is preparing to give ground to Brussels to resolve the disagreement over the Northern Ireland protocol.

A Downing Street source told the paper that Mr Sunak was ‘taking the fight’ to the EU but was also hopeful that a more constructive approach on both sides could bear fruit.

‘Rishi wants to get this sorted as quickly as possible; there’s definitely a deal to be done,’ a No 10 source said.

‘It’s our team’s sense that there is much more of a landing zone, in terms of what we would be happy with, than there has ever been.’

But they added: ‘He’s taking the fight to them. He’s not going to be giving up stuff that he and the party would not be happy with him giving up.’

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