LONDON, Nov 23 (Reuters) – British finance minister Jeremy Hunt on Wednesday ruled out a softening of Brexit by changing the trade deal with the European Union, following demands from companies to make it easier to hire staff from abroad and remove trade barriers.
Britain’s grim economic outlook, marked by stagnant business investment and sluggish post-Brexit trade, has sparked calls from businesses and economists for closer ties with the EU and a more relaxed approach to immigration to boost growth.
Appearing before the British parliament’s Treasury Committee, Hunt was asked about media reports that he favoured Britain moving to a relationship with the EU similar to Switzerland’s, which involves close alignment with EU rules and few restrictions on migration of EU workers.
“I can rule out any suggestion that it has ever been the government’s intention to move away from the TCA (Brexit deal), to move to a situation where we don’t have full control of our regulations, to compromise freedom of movement,” Hunt said.
“I can absolutely say that has never been our position.”
Hunt added that he believed existing trade frictions with the EU could be reduced by a better use of technology.
Under Britain’s post-Brexit Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) with the EU, there are no tariffs payable on goods moving between Britain and the EU, but separate rules on regulation, customs and immigration.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told business leaders at a Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference on Monday that he was “unequivocal” that Britain should pursue its own agenda on regulation and migration.
The CBI said Britain should create a programme of temporary work visas to boost economic growth and also resolve a dispute with the EU over trade rules in Northern Ireland.
(Reporting by David Milliken, Kylie Maclellan and Suban Abdulla; writing by Andy Bruce)