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New Tory Brexit civil war as ministers warn they will NOT support ‘Swiss-style’ ties

The Tories have been caught up in a new wave of Brexit wars today, as ministers warned they will not support ‘Swiss-style’ ties with the EU.

Government sources have indicated Switzerland’s relationship with the bloc could be a model for the UK in the decade to come.

Despite claims that free movement would not return, there are fears that the UK will eventually accept EU law, pay the Brussels treasury and face increased immigration.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay tried to pour cold water on the reports in the Sunday Times this morning, telling Sky News’ Ridge on Sunday programme: ‘I don’t support that. I want to make maximum use of the opportunities that Brexit offers.’

Mr Barclay pointed out that Mr Sunak himself was a strong Brexiteer.

Tory MPs warned of ‘betrayal’ of the 2016 referendum result. Former cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg said the Conservatives are a ‘Brexit party’ and risk becoming a ‘non-Brexit party’ if they agree to ‘unfettered’ trade with the EU.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt raised eyebrows last week by saying he wants to remove trade barriers with Brussels as part of efforts to stimulate the economy.

While he stressed that this does not mean he is re-entering the single market, sources told the Sunday Times that Switzerland’s arrangements could be a model.

Downing Street flatly rejected the claims.

A government spokeswoman said: “These reports are flatly false. This government is focused on using our Brexit freedoms to create opportunities that stimulate growth and strengthen our economy.

“Brexit means we never again have to accept a relationship with Europe that would lead to a return to free movement, unnecessary payments to the European Union or completely jeopardize the trade deals we can now make around the world.”

Health Secretary Steve Barclay tried to cast cold water on the reports of a Swiss-style approach, telling Sky News’ Ridge on Sunday programme: ‘I don’t support that. I want to make maximum use of the opportunities that Brexit offers.’

Senior figures in Rishi Sunak's government are said to be considering a Swiss-style deal - a report the government does not acknowledge

Senior figures in Rishi Sunak's government are said to be considering a Swiss-style deal - a report the government does not acknowledge

Senior figures in Rishi Sunak’s government are said to be considering a Swiss-style deal – a report the government does not acknowledge

Former Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg said: 'This would be Brexit in name only - it would basically take the teeth out of Brexit and not even replace it with dentures'

Former Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg said: 'This would be Brexit in name only - it would basically take the teeth out of Brexit and not even replace it with dentures'

Former Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg said: ‘This would be Brexit in name only – it would basically take the teeth out of Brexit and not even replace it with dentures’

The speculation arose as the UK remains deadlocked with the EU over the Northern Ireland protocol.

Switzerland and the EU have a close economic relationship based on a series of bilateral agreements, giving the country direct access to most of the EU’s internal market, but without being part of the customs union.

It accepts free movement of people, but the source told the paper they don’t think it would be necessary for the UK.

Switzerland also contributes to Brussels budgets and accepts EU law.

CBI chief Tony Danker urged ministers to focus on implementing the existing trade deal with the EU rather than tearing it apart.

“There aren’t many big growth prospects for the country and the government can’t afford to kick-start the economy like it used to,” he told the BBC on Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg.

So it’s no surprise that we’re starting to look at other ways to grow the economy that don’t cost money.

“An obvious question is: can we improve trade with Europe? The problem is that we are not even implementing Boris’s deal at the moment.

‘So I don’t think we need to talk about Switzerland. We need to talk first about whether we can implement the Boris deal, which offers more opportunities that we’re not capturing due to Northern Ireland protocol.

“Instead of talking about Switzerland, I think the government should talk about Northern Ireland, improved trade with Europe, that will help us grow.

“That stuff, maybe we can come back to that in a decade. But I think we have to solve the Northern Ireland problem first.’

An MP told The Mail on Sunday: ‘It didn’t take long for the mask to slip off.

“This is total betrayal. The ERG must fight tooth and nail against this.’

Mr Rees-Mogg said: ‘This would be Brexit in name only – it would basically take the teeth out of Brexit and not even replace it with dentures.

“If we were to do this, all the benefits of regulatory differences would be lost. It wouldn’t make sense to make trade deals around the world because we wouldn’t have regulatory flexibility and we wouldn’t have a say in the rules.

“The Conservative Party is a Brexit party and cannot become a non-Brexit party.”

Tory MP Peter Bone said: ‘The party would not carry this. If you fought an election to get out of the EU, you got a majority of 80 seats and you won a referendum on it, there’s no chance that this would be acceptable.

“If the government tried to do this, the party would fall apart in the House of Commons as well as in the country. It’s sheer madness. That said, I haven’t heard anyone suggest it yet.’

Former Brexit minister David Jones condemned the plan as “100 per cent anathema to Brexit”.

Mr Jones added: ‘The fact is that Switzerland is constantly negotiating with the EU on every facet of market rules. We just can’t accept that here.’

Switzerland has access to the European internal market, an agreement on the free movement of persons, and pays into the EU budget.

This was also an approach Mr Johnson and Lord Frost, his chief Brexit negotiator, ruled out when they drafted the UK’s 2020 negotiating mandate.

Lord Frost told the Sunday Times: ‘Any approach requiring the UK to adapt to EU rules in order to gain trade benefits, whether as part of a Swiss approach or another, would be wholly unacceptable.

“Boris Johnson and I have fought very hard to avoid such requirements in 2020 and to ensure that the UK can make its own laws, and we should not think about giving this away in the future.”

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has indicated that Rishi Sunak’s government plans to break with Johnson’s approach and remove the vast majority of trade barriers with the bloc.

In private, senior government sources have suggested that the pursuit of frictionless trade requires a transition to a Swiss-style relationship, the newspaper reported.

“I think unfettered trade with our neighbors and countries around the world is very beneficial to growth,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“I am confident that in the years to come we will discover beyond the internal market that we can remove the vast majority of trade barriers between us and the EU. It will take time.’

Lord Frost said shift in policy would be 'unacceptable' after working with Boris Johnson to negotiate with EU

Lord Frost said shift in policy would be 'unacceptable' after working with Boris Johnson to negotiate with EU

Lord Frost said shift in policy would be ‘unacceptable’ after working with Boris Johnson to negotiate with EU

The plan, designed to foster closer economic ties with the bloc, would mark a major break from Boris Johnson's approach

The plan, designed to foster closer economic ties with the bloc, would mark a major break from Boris Johnson's approach

The plan, designed to foster closer economic ties with the bloc, would mark a major break from Boris Johnson’s approach

His comments caused a sensation among members of the European Research Group (ERG) who led the Brexit campaign.

The group also fears that the government is preparing to give Brussels ground to resolve the disagreement over the Northern Ireland protocol.

A Downing Street source told the paper that Mr Sunak was ‘taking the fight’ to the EU, but also hoped a more constructive approach could pay off on both sides.

‘Rishi wants this sorted out as soon as possible; there is definitely a deal to be made,” said a No. 10 source.

“It’s our team’s sense that there’s a lot more landing zone, in terms of what we’d be happy with, than ever before.”

But she added: “He’s taking the fight to them. He’s not going to give up things that he and the party wouldn’t be happy if he gave up.’

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