Jeremy Hunt has insisted Britain will not move to a Swiss-style deal with the EU. The Chancellor also issued a carefully worded denial that he was the source of reports the Government was considering a relationship with Brussels during an appearance on the Treasury Committee today.
Mr Hunt’s comments come after Sunday Times reports Rishi Sunak’s Government is considering putting the UK on the road to closer ties with the bloc, sparking alarm among Brexiteers.
The Chancellor was believed to be the source as it emerged after he publicly conceded Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal had created trade barriers with Brussels.
But Mr Hunt today insisted the Government would not move away from the agreement Mr Johnson struck in 2020.
He told MPs: “We support the Trade and Co-operation Agreement, we think it is an excellent agreement that was negotiated by Boris Johnson and David Frost.
“We do not support, we would not contemplate, I do not support, I have never contemplated any agreement which means moving away from the TCA, that means we are not negotiating or deciding the regulations that we want as sovereign equals, paying unnecessary money to the EU or indeed compromising on freedom of movement.
“That has always been my position as Chancellor.
“With respect to the story in the Sunday Times, if you’re saying was the Treasury, was I, the source for any suggestion we should seek to renegotiate the TCA to move it towards an agreement more like the agreement with Switzerland, the answer is no.
“If you are saying do I believe that we could remove the physical barriers to trade in the way that happens on the Franco-Swiss border, the Norway-Sweden border, maybe in a way that is relevant for the Northern Ireland Protocol issues … that’s been my public position for some time.”
Pressed by chairwoman Harriett Baldwin, Mr Hunt added: “I am not and the Treasury is not the source of any suggestion that we want to move away from the TCA or not have sovereign control of our regulations.
“If you are saying ‘do I believe that technology can reduce barriers to trade’, yes I do and I think that could be a very important way forward.
“In the context of people saying Brexit trade barriers are the cause of our problems, my answer is I think technology will be a solution.”
Ms Baldwin said: “It sounds like the hares that suddenly set off onto the front page of The Sunday Times may have started their run from the Treasury.”
Mr Hunt said: “I think you would have to talk to the Sunday Times, but I want to be clear about what I have said in public and in private and be absolute clear that my position and the Government’s position has been and has always been to support the TCA, full regulatory independence and I think you can look at the autumn statement to see that is what I believe, because it’s what I actually did.”
He added: “I can rule out any suggestion that it has ever been the Government’s intention to move away from the TCA, to move to a situation where we don’t have full control of our regulations, to compromise on freedom of movement – I can absolutely say that has never been our position and we have not set those hares running, no.”
It comes after the Sunday Times reported that “senior government figures” were planning to put the UK on a path towards arrangements similar to Switzerland’s to ensure access to the EU’s single market.
The model would reportedly involve more liberal EU migration – although full free movement would not be on the table – and payments to the Brussels budget.
It comes as the UK is locked in ongoing talks with the EU over the Nothern Ireland Protocol.
The post-Brexit arrangement for the region was designed to avoid a border on the island of Ireland but has been a long-running source of tension as it has led to checks on goods moving between Britain and Northern Ireland.
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