Blog: UK hopes for Swiss-style EU deal are ‘wishful thinking’ without taking EU laws, insiders warn – iNews

Weekend briefings that the UK was eyeing up a “Swiss-style Brexit” was enough to set Remain – and probably some soft Leave – hearts a-flutter.

A closer relationship with the EU is still viewed as a long-term goal for those opposed to Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal because they view it as a drag on economic growth, but they would not have expected the idea to be discussed so soon after the UK’s exit, and under this Conservative Government.

However, Government and EU insiders have made clear to i that the idea is a remote possibility, with UK sources insisting there will be no more alignment with Brussels rules as Brexit must mean “total control of our laws”.

EU officials meanwhile baulk at suggestions, made by those briefing the idea of a Swiss-style model, that Brussels could give the UK a special deal without alignment as “wishful thinking”.

It was Chancellor Jeremy Hunt who set hares running with a Friday interview in which he said he had “great confidence” that the UK will be able to “remove the vast majority of trade barriers that exist between us and the EU”, before The Sunday Times reported the Government was eyeing up a closer “Swiss-style” relationship.

Switzerland is not a member of the EU but has access to the single marker in return for accepting some EU trade legislation, such as signing up to the Schengen free travel area.

Since Mr Hunt’s interview, both No 10 and No 11 have attempted hose down suggestions that removing trade barriers meant closer alignment with Brussels rules, despite this being the crux of years of tortured debate over post-Brexit trade with the EU.

Government sources have since attempted to insist that what Mr Hunt was talking about was an easing of trade barriers that do not require closer alignment, for example the mutual recognition of professional qualifications and a resolution to the dispute over Northern Ireland helping to normalise relations in areas like science co-operation.

A UK source said: “We obviously want a constructive relationship with our European friends based on free trade and friendly cooperation.

“We will work to strengthen our trading links – as we do with friendly countries all over the world – but never at the expense of having total control over our laws.”

That did not stop a senior Government source then briefing The Sunday Times that closer trade would be possible even without alignment.

“They would say you are trying to have your cake and eat it but the reason I think we will get it is because it is overwhelmingly in the businesses interests on both sides,” the newspaper was told.

This, however, was dismissed by Brussels.

One EU official told i that the idea was “wishful thinking”, with Brussels wary of any return to the so-called cherry picking or cake-ism that defined the UK Brexit debate between 2016 and 2019.

The official instead said the EU views the briefing about a Swiss model as an attempt to gauge the scale of opposition among Tory Brexiteers – what is known in politics as flying a kite: “It seems more something aimed at the ERG (European Research Group) rather than at the EU.”

If there was any doubt within the Government about how the idea of softening Brexit would go down, it was quickly dispelled by an immediate Tory backlash, as ERG members told i closer trade would mean a “massive surrender of our sovereignty”.

In a sign of how remote they view the possibility of softening Brexit in the current political climate, even the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) chief said it would rather get the existing arrangements working as well as possible.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak then killed the idea of a Swiss-style Brexit dead as he addressed the CBI’s conference on Monday.

“Let me be unequivocal about this: Under my leadership, the United Kingdom will not pursue any relationship with Europe that relies on alignment with EU laws,” he said.

As it has always said, the EU would be open to improving trade terms in the future, as long as the UK was “reasonable” about the trade-offs.

“We serenely wait for our British friends to come up with proposals and we are happy to explore and discuss anything they might want to propose, as long as it is constructive, sound and reasonable,” the official said.

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