Speaking at the Conference of British Industry’s (CBI) annual conference on Monday (21 November), the Prime Minister said he was “unequivocal” in his viewpoint on trade - confirming he will not pursue a deal which means the UK has to align with the laws of the EU. He also argued that the UK should use its Brexit “regulatory freedoms” to open itself up to some of the fastest growing markets in the world.
The Richmond MP’s comments come amid reports that the government was considering a Swiss-style relationship with the EU post-Brexit. Switzerland is not a member of the union, but has a close economic and trading relationship with the bloc, meaning it has access to the EU’s single market.
A government spokesperson has already slammed these reports as “categorically untrue”, commenting: “Brexit means we will never again have to accept a relationship with Europe that would see a return to freedom of movement, unnecessary payments to the European Union, or jeopardise the full benefit of trade deals we are now able to strike around the world.”
By ruling out any alignment with the union’s laws, Sunak has further quashed these rumours. He told those at the CBI conference: “On trade, let me be unequivocal about this. Under my leadership, the United Kingdom will not pursue any relationship with Europe that relies on alignment with EU laws. I voted for Brexit. I believe in Brexit and I know that Brexit can deliver, and is already delivering, enormous benefits and opportunities for the country.”
The Prime Minister cited migration as an example of the benefits, saying “we have proper control of our borders and are able to have a conversation with our country about the type of migration that we want and need”, which he said “we weren’t able to do inside of the European Union.”
Sunak also said it was important to “open up our country to the world’s fastest growing markets,” mentioning the recent G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, where he said the UK talked about “signing CPTPP - where we’ve got some of the most exciting, fastest growing economies in the world, and we can become a part of that trading bloc.” He called this a “fantastic opportunity for the UK.”
These remarks will be welcomed by Tory Brexiteers, many of whom had expressed dismay at the prospect of Swiss-style links with the EU. While Switzerland has smoother trading of goods across borders, its bilateral agreements also mean it is signed up to the Schengen free travel zone, which allows for the free movement of people and has to accept package deals from the EU, which may include elements of legislation it has been opposed to as a country. These are some of the things Brexiteers wanted to see an end to.
Other Cabinet members have denied the reports about Swiss-style relationships too. Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky News the government was "going to stick with the relationship that we’ve secured”, referring to the deal former Prime Minister Boris Johnson struck after a series of back-and-forth negotiations.
He added: "That doesn’t mean that we’re not interested in improving our trading relations with the European Union or indeed in my sphere, our security and migration partnership with the European Union."
Health Secretary Steve Barclay also said he had not heard of any talks of mirroring Switzerland’s relationship or trade deals, adding that he could not support such links because he wants to “maximise the opportunities” that Brexit offers the UK.
At the CBI conference, the Prime Minister also spoke of priorities such as “controlling inflation”, protecting an NHS that is “free at the point of use”, “developing a world-class education system”, and “tackling illegal migration”.
In response to remarks made by boss of the CBI, Tony Danker, who called on the government to be “practical” and use immigration to solve “vast” worker shortages in the UK, Sunak insisted the UK had "one of the world’s most attractive visa regimes for entrepreneurs and highly-skilled people."
He added that to further draw in highly-skilled immigrants, the government is “launching a programme to identify and attract the world’s top 100 young talents on AI.” But, he continued, in order to build “a system that allows businesses to access the best and brightest from around the world, we need to do more to give the British people trust and confidence that the system works and is fair.”
That, Sunak said, means “tackling illegal migration” - and maintaining the UK’s scrapping of free movement in order to “rebuild public consent in our immigration system”.