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 UK was eyeing up such a relationship with Brussels during an appearance on the Treasury Committee this afternoon.
Mr Hunt’s comments come after reports in the Sunday Times that senior Government figures were working towards regaining access to the single market, sparking alarm among Brexiteers.
The Chancellor was blamed as the story’s source because it emerged after he had publicly said Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal had created trade barriers with the EU.
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 (TCA), 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.”
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.”
Chairwoman Harriett Baldwin pressed: “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 absolutely 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.
“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.”
Conservative Eurosceptics were up in arms over reports the UK could move to 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 it has been a long-running source of tension as it has led to checks on goods moving between Britain and Northern Ireland.