Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has insisted he does not support Britain rejoining the European Union’s single market after facing a backlash from Tory Brexiteers.
He issued a carefully worded denial that he was the source of suggestions that the Government was considering a Swiss-style relationship with the EU.
Conservative Eurosceptics were up in arms after the Sunday Times reported that senior Government figures were working towards regaining access to the single market.
Fingers were pointed at Mr Hunt as the story’s source because it emerged after he had publicly conceded Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal had created trade barriers with Brussels.
But on Wednesday he insisted the Government supports the trade and cooperation agreement (TCA) signed by Boris Johnson was an “excellent” deal.
He told the Commons Treasury Committee: “We do not support, we would not contemplate, 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, paying unnecessary money to the EU or indeed compromising on freedom of movement.
“That has always been my position as Chancellor.”
Committee chair Harriett Baldwin 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.”
Mr Hunt repeatedly gave her a formulation of a denial saying he and the Treasury were not the source of “any suggestion that we want to move away from the TCA”.
“With respect to the story in the Sunday Times, if you’re saying was the Treasury, was I, the source for any suggestion we should seek to renegotiate the TCA to move it towards an agreement more like the agreement with Switzerland, the answer is no,” he said.
“If you are saying do I believe that we could remove the physical barriers to trade in the way that happens on the Franco-Swiss border, the Norway-Sweden border, maybe in a way that is relevant for the Northern Ireland Protocol issues … that’s been my public position for some time.”
He added: “I can rule out any suggestion that it has ever been the Government’s intention to move away from the TCA, to move to a situation where we don’t have full control of our regulations, to compromise (on) freedom of movement – I can absolutely say that has never been our position and we have not set those hares running, no.”