SENIOR figures in Rishi Sunak’s government are reportedly considering putting the UK on the road to a Swiss-style relationship with the EU. 

The Sunday Times reports that the move could take place over the next decade as the Government eyes up a closer relationship with the EU that avoids the current barriers to trade.

Any such shift, only a few years after Boris Johnson secured a deal with the EU after years of negotiations, would likely inflame backbench Tory Brexiteers. 

However, Downing Street has rejected the report with Health Secretary Steve Barclay telling Sky News, “I don’t recognise this story at all”.

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He added that Sunak supported Brexit, and that it was important to use “Brexit freedoms” in various “high growth areas”. 

The Times suggested that, behind closed doors, some in government have indicated that the pursuit of a frictionless trading relationship with the bloc requires moving to a Swiss-style arrangement.

Switzerland and the EU have a close economic relationship based on a series of bilateral agreements, giving the country direct access to parts of the EU’s internal market including the free movement of people.

Barclay added: “We’ve got a Prime Minister who himself supported Brexit. I myself did and was Brexit secretary and worked very hard to maximise our control of our laws, our borders and our money. 

“So, it’s absolutely important, particularly in those high-growth sectors, such as financial services, life sciences and the green industries, that we really use the Brexit freedoms we have.”

Asked about the Swiss-style relationship, he said: “Well, I didn’t support that. I want to maximise the opportunities that Brexit offers.”

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt admitted that Johnson’s Brexit deal caused damaging trade barriers with the EU, as he said immigration will be “very important” for the economy

Hunt also insisted the UK would find a way to improve trading ties with the EU without re-joining the single market. 

Barclay admitted that since Brexit there have been “difficulties” with “greater friction” over trade. 

Asked on Sky News whether Brexit has had an adverse impact on UK trade, Barclay said: “What I’m saying is you’ve got to look at the issues in terms of Brexit in the round. 

“There are areas where there have been difficulties in terms of greater friction and we’re looking to work constructively with EU partners on that.

“But equally, there are very significant opportunities as a result of Brexit. I don’t think we would have done the vaccine rollout in the way that we did had we remained a member of the EU and the significant regulatory opportunities we have, and the autumn statement signalled our determination to take those.”

Elsewhere, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Ashworth said Labour does not want the UK to re-join the EU’s single market.

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He told Sky News: "We’re not proposing returning to the single market or the customs union, or anything like that.

“But we do want to negotiate a bespoke deal for the United Kingdom, so that our businesses can export, so that we can get those agreements on agriculture, so we can work together on security issues.

“But we’re not proposing that we just simply adopt the Swiss proposal, which the Government now are apparently looking at.

“Of course, we need to fix this deal. Of course, we need to make Brexit work, because this oven-ready deal that we were promised, this great deal, has not worked out in the way in which Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson told the British people that it would do.”