The Government is reportedly eyeing up a closer relationship with the EU that avoids the current barriers to trade. Rishi Sunak is believed to be mulling a new Brexit plan that would see Britain having a Swiss-style deal with the bloc, a move that is already infuriating staunch Tory Brexiteers.
Downing Street sources rejected the report but the Times suggested that behind closed doors some in Government have indicated that the pursuit of a frictionless trading relationship with the bloc requires moving to a Swiss-style arrangement over the next 10 years.
According to the paper, this would not extend to a return to freedom of movement.
Reacting to the reports, Director of the Vote Leave campaign and Tory peer Lord Cruddas, vowed to mobilise his old team to stop the plans.
He wrote: “This is a reversal of the 2016 EU referendum when over 17 million people voted to leave the EU.
“I am ready to mobilise the Vote Leave team to stop it. We are ready to fight for the Brexit the electorate voted for.”
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 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.
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Mr Hunt also insisted the UK would find a way to improve trading ties with the EU without rejoining the single market.
Simon Clarke, the former levelling up secretary, was among those to criticise any suggestion that the UK could pursue a Swiss-style arrangement.
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.”
Lord Frost, the former chief Brexit negotiator, also tweeted that he hoped if that the report was correct “the Government thinks better of these plans, fast”.