Brexit: Jeremy Hunt fails to deny he was source for ‘UK seeking Swiss-style deal’ claim

Jeremy Hunt has failed to deny he was the source behind a claim the UK will seek a “Swiss-style deal” to improve the Brexit agreement – but insisted he did not brief that is his aim.

Quizzed by MPs, the chancellor said “I do not support, I have never contemplated” tearing up threadbare Boris Johnson’s deal, despite it being blamed for a big slump in GDP and cross-Channel trade.

But Mr Hunt failed, repeatedly, to deny he or an aide in the Treasury briefed journalists ahead of last weekend’s story which has reignited the Conservative wars over Europe.

Instead, he said: “I am not, and the Treasury is not, the source of any suggestion that we want to move away from the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, or not have sovereign control.”

Mr Hunt stood by his claim that the “vast majority” of trade barriers can be removed in the years to come, without rewriting the 2020 deal – but without explaining how.

On Monday, No 10 failed to echo that claim and Rishi Sunak vowed: “Under my leadership, the UK will not pursue any relationship with Europe that relies on alignment with EU laws.”

The “Swiss-style deal” rumour has sparked Tory backbench suspicions that Mr Hunt – a Remainer back in 2016 – is leading a Treasury attempt to soften Brexit, in the search for economic growth.

Nigel Farage leap on the controversy, calling it a “betrayal” and claiming the Conservatives would be “destroyed at the next general election in a way that they cannot begin to contemplate”.

However, the government is in a race against time to show voters it can avert the forecast 4 per cent hit to GDP, with a 15 per cent loss of trade, from the existing agreement.

At the Commons Treasury committee, Mr Hunt swerved a request to give a “yes/no answer” to the question of whether The Sunday Times story was briefed from the Treasury.

Harriett Baldwin, its Tory chair, told him: “It sounds like the hares that suddenly set off onto the front page of The Sunday Times may have started their run from the Treasury.”

The chancellor said the committee would need to “talk to The Sunday Times” about its sources – but insisted his autumn statement made clear he wished to diverge from EU rules, not align to them.

“My position, and the government’s position, has been and has always been to support the TCA, full regulatory independence,” he insisted.

“And I think you can look at the autumn statement to see that is what I believe, because it’s what I actually did,” Mr Hunt added – pointing to “Solvency II reforms” to unlock investment by insurance firms.

The Chancellor added: “I do not support, I have never contemplated, any agreement which means moving away from the TCA, that means we are not negotiating or deciding the regulations that we want as sovereign equals.”

Source: UK Politics -


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