UK Government Denies Claims of Plans for Closer Ties With EU

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The British government has said reports that it is seeking a “Swiss-style” relationship with the EU are “categorically untrue.”

It follows a report in The Sunday Times that claimed Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was considering building a closer economic relationship with the bloc in a bid to avoid trade barriers, a suggestion which attracted fierce criticism from eurosceptics within the party.

Speaking at the annual conference for the Confederation of British Industry on Monday, Sunak said that under his leadership “the United Kingdom will not pursue any relationship with Europe that relies on alignment with EU laws.” The prime minister, who voted for Brexit in the 2016 referendum, reiterated his belief in the UK’s independence, stating that it would bring economic benefits for the country.

Earlier in the day a government spokesperson said that Brexit meant the UK would never have to accept a relationship with Europe which would jeopardise the full benefit of possible trade deals around the world, despite some criticism from Conservative MPs over the quality of such arrangements.

During a Commons debate on Nov. 14, former environment minister George Eustice said the country’s trade deal with Australia was not very good, saying the UK gave away too much for too little in return.

Switzerland’s relationship with the EU sees the country independent of the 27-member bloc, however the country has benefits such as frictionless trade, participation in EU research and education programmes, and freedom of movement, in return for a significant contribution to the EU budget.

During Brexit negotiations the UK was offered the Swiss-style arrangement, but it was rejected as the British government believed it removed too many freedoms that the country could enjoy.

On Nov. 17, in an assessment to coincide with the chancellor’s autumn financial statement, the country’s Office of Budget Responsibility said Brexit had a “significant adverse impact” on the UK economy, which like the rest of the world is already struggling from high inflation and rising energy costs.

While Brexit supporters argue that they haven’t had the opportunity to prove the benefits of the UK’s departure, some critics believe the deal was not practical, with a resolution over the ongoing problems at the Northern Ireland border still outstanding.

Also on Nov. 17, a YouGov poll revealed that 56 percent of Britons now believe it was wrong to leave the European Union, a record low since the country left in December 2020, with calls for another referendum becoming louder.

PA Media contributed to this report.

Dan Warren

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