LONDON (Reuters) -- The British government said it has no plans to move to a Swiss-style relationship with the European Union after some of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s euroskeptic lawmakers warned him against pursuing a closer alignment with the trading bloc.
The Sunday Times reported that Sunak’s government would look to pursue frictionless trade with the EU, which Britain left in January 2020. The newspaper said a potential deal could be modeled on Switzerland’s EU relationship but that this would not involve a return to freedom of movement.
Switzerland has access to the EU’s single market, but in return has to accept conditions, including freedom of movement and payments into the bloc’s budget - a model previously rejected by British ministers during negotiations with Brussels.
“I don’t recognize this story at all,” health minister Steve Barclay told Sky News. “I don’t support that. I want to maximize the opportunities that Brexit offers.”
A UK foreign ministry spokesperson said: “These reports are categorically untrue”.
Simon Clarke, a former minister, was among those to criticize any suggestion that Britain could pursue a Swiss-style deal. He said on Twitter he hoped and believed that a Swiss-style deal “isn’t something under consideration”.
David Frost, former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s chief Brexit negotiator, said if the claims were correct, he hoped “the government thinks better of these plans, fast”.
Nigel Farage, one of the most high-profile faces of the campaign to leave the EU, said on Twitter: “This level of betrayal will never be forgiven.”
Britain’s governing Conservatives have lurched from crisis to crisis since the vote to leave the European Union in 2016, which led to years of difficult negotiations with Brussels over an exit deal.
During those talks, the British government said the Swiss-style model of EU relations was unsuitable for Britain because the UK would have had to align with EU laws without any say over them and agree to freedom of movement for EU workers.
Britain is currently locked in talks with the EU over the Northern Ireland protocol, a part of the Brexit deal that mandated checks on some goods moving to Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom due to the province’s open land border with EU member Ireland.