No backtracking on Brexit, says UK Prime Minister

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Monday denied that his government was seeking to backtrack on the UK’s withdrawal agreement from the European Union, despite what appeared to be a growing backlash against Brexit.

Sunak, a Brexiteer, told business leaders that life outside the EU “really offers enormous advantages and opportunities”.

He has promoted greater restrictions on immigration – a key plank of the Brexit deal – and closer trade ties with Asia.

But he added: “Let me be blunt about this: Under my leadership, the UK will not seek any relationship with Europe that is dependent on conforming to the laws of the European Union.”

The United Kingdom left the European Union entirely in January 2021, after years of political wrangling since the divisive referendum in 2016 to leave the bloc.

Brexit saw the UK withdraw from the European single market and customs union, while freedom of movement between member states and the jurisdiction of European courts ended.

But the agreement between London and Brussels maintained largely duty-free trade with the remaining 27 members.

Also read: Johnson warns EU on post-Brexit trade in Northern Ireland

Sunak’s comments follow a Sunday Times report that “senior government figures” were planning to “put Britain on the path to a Swiss-style relationship” with the EU.

Switzerland has much closer ties with the bloc through bilateral agreements that allow access to the single market, a high degree of freedom of movement and payments into EU coffers.

The report, and comments last week by Finance Minister Jeremy Hunt, who voted to remain in the EU, said he was keen to remove the “vast majority” of trade barriers with the EU.

This alarmed the eurosceptic members of the ruling Conservative Party.

“The government should focus on what it needs to do, rather than trying to reopen a stable debate about Europe,” former Conservative leader Ian Duncan Smith told The Sun.

Bad deals? –

The backlash triggered memories of the feverish fallout from the referendum on how best to deliver Britain’s exit from the European Union.

Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a staunch critic of his predecessor Theresa May’s Swiss-style relationship plan, finally won the argument with his tougher version of Brexit.

He won a landslide election victory in December 2019 on a pledge to “get Brexit done”, after he negotiated his 2019 divorce deal.

However, three years later, the United Kingdom is going through a deep economic crisis and criticism of Johnson’s agreement and the entire Brexit project is growing.

Amid soaring inflation and expectations of the longest recession on record, a new YouGov poll last week indicated that 56 per cent of people now think it is wrong to leave the European Union.

About 32 percent were still in favor.

The Office for Budget Responsibility Control assessed that Brexit had a “significant negative impact” on UK trade, in comments that were endorsed by the Bank of England.

The Balance Sheet Office blamed Brexit for lowering overall trade volumes and undermining trade relations with the bloc.

Also read: Brexit bureaucracy is leaving British beetroots rotting

The bleak economic news was compounded by London’s loss of status as the largest market for European stocks to Paris.

Brexiteers promised trade deals around the world, including with the potentially lucrative US market.

But an agreement with Washington is unlikely anytime soon.

London’s agreements with other countries – negotiated by Liz Truss, Sunak’s short-lived predecessor as trade minister – are also coming under fire.

Former Environment Secretary George Eustice said last week that the agreement he helped seal with Australia almost a year ago “wasn’t actually a very good deal for the UK”.

“Overall, the fact of the matter is that the UK has given too much, for too little in return,” he told MPs, citing the liberalization of the beef and sheep markets.

In Brussels, the European Commission said: “Our relationship with the United Kingdom is based on the Withdrawal Agreement and the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.”

A spokesman told reporters that the interim deal for food and agricultural products was “the only Swiss-style deal or offer on the table as far as we are concerned”.

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