Rishi Sunak: UK not seeking a Swiss-style relationship with EU

Prime Minister said he voted for Brexit and still believes in it

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivers a speech at the CBI conference. EPA
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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak says Britain is categorically not seeking a Swiss-style relationship with the EU and he still believes in Brexit.

Mr Sunak said leaving the EU had offered the UK new opportunities to control migration and strike trade deals.

His comments followed a report in The Sunday Times that said some senior figures were planning to put the UK on a path towards arrangements similar to Switzerland, which has a close economic relationship with the EU based on a series of bilateral agreements.

That gives the country direct access to parts of the EU's internal market, including the free movement of people.

But Mr Sunak told the Confederation of British Industry annual conference that the UK “will not pursue any relationship with Europe that relies on alignment with EU laws” under his leadership.

“I voted for Brexit, I believe in Brexit and I know that Brexit can deliver, and is already delivering, enormous benefits and opportunities for the country — migration being an immediate one where we have proper control of our borders and are able to have a conversation with the country about the type of migration that we want and need,” he said.

“We weren't able to do that inside the European Union — at least now we are in control of it.

“When it comes to trade, it means that we can open up our country to the world's fastest-growing markets.

“I've just got back from the G20 in Indonesia — we're talking about signing the CPTPP [Pacific trade pact], where we've got some of the most exciting, fastest-growing economies in the world and we can become a part of that trading bloc. That's a fantastic opportunity for the UK.”

Speaking early on Monday, immigration minister Robert Jenrick said it “couldn't be further from the truth” that the UK was looking to emulate the Swiss-EU relationship.

The Sunday Times report said arrangements could be negotiated to ensure access to the EU's single market.

The model would involve more liberal EU migration — although full free movement would not be on the table — and payments to the Brussels budget, the newspaper said.

Mr Jenrick told TalkTV there is “no question whatsoever” of the UK reopening the deal with the EU.

“We have a settled position on our relationship with the European Union, that's the deal that was struck in 2019 and 2020 — and that's the one that we intend to stick to,” he told TalkTV.

“That sets out the fundamental position that we don't want to see a return to free movement, we don't want to have the jurisdiction of European judges in the UK, and we don't want to be paying any money to the European Union.

“Of course there will be things on which we can improve our relationship — trade, security, migration are all key topics, and the Prime Minister wants to have the most productive relationship possible with our European friends and neighbours.

“But there's no question whatsoever of us reopening the fundamental tenets of that deal.”

A government representative called The Sunday Times report “categorically untrue”.

They said: “This government is focused on using our Brexit freedoms to create opportunities that drive growth and strengthen our economy.

“Brexit means we will never again have to accept a relationship with Europe that would see a return to freedom of movement, unnecessary payments to the European Union or jeopardise the full benefit of trade deals we are now able to strike around the world.”

The UK is locked in long-running talks with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol, a post-Brexit arrangement designed to avoid a border on the island of Ireland.

Unionists have opposed the protocol as impeding trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, effectively 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.

However, there have been renewed hopes in recent weeks that a deal can be secured and the relationship improved between the UK and the EU after years of tension.

Meanwhile, a UK-Switzerland agreement on services was extended for three years.

This means UK professionals can continue to travel and operate freely in Switzerland for up to 90 days a year without needing a permit.

International Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch said: “The UK and Swiss economies are both services powerhouses and closely aligned.

“Today's agreement is a win-win for both sides. From financial services in Edinburgh to cyber security in Wales, the deal ensures UK businesses capitalise on the huge opportunities on offer.”

The UK and Switzerland will launch negotiations next year on a new free-trade agreement.

Updated: November 21, 2022, 3:28 PM