Rishi Sunak should negotiate ‘soft Brexit’ trade deal with EU, says ex-Tory donor

Rishi Sunak is under pressure from Tory Eurosceptics over post-Brexit plans  (Getty Images)
Rishi Sunak is under pressure from Tory Eurosceptics over post-Brexit plans (Getty Images)

A billionaire former Conservative donor has said he would back the party again if the government renegotiates with the EU for a “soft” Brexit trade deal.

Guy Hands urged Rishi Sunak to consider a radical move to restart trade talks with Brussels, saying it could help the party win the next general election.

The private equity mogul, who has not offered any funding the Tories in recent years, told the i newspaper that he could donate again if the prime minister accepted that the current Brexit deal was damaging the economy.

“I am happy to support the party that puts the long-term future health of Britain above party politics. While a good deal with Europe will not solve all problems, it would be a good start,” he said.

“Having a vote on Brexit was meant to solve the issue of Europe in the Tory Party for good,” said Mr Hands – bemoaning the “appalling campaign” run by the Remainers for an unwelcome result in 2016.

He added: “If the Remainers in the Tory party can own up to their mistakes and the Brexiteers can admit that Brexit has not gone the way it was meant to, then not only can renegotiating Brexit be good for the country, but it can also give the Tory party the chance of uniting together and winning the next election.”

The founder of private equity company Terra Firma recently attacked the “completely hopeless” hard Brexit deals agreed by Boris Johnson, which saw the UK exit the EU single market and customs union.

Mr Hands said growing evidence showed that it was driving Britain into “a disastrous economic state” and was on course to become the “sick man of Europe”.

His latest intervention comes as Mr Sunak and his chancellor Jeremy Hunt try to smooth over a row with Tory Brexiteers over a report that the government was considering ways to forge “Swiss-style” alignment with the EU to gain single market access.

Mr Hunt have been at pains to dismiss the idea of aligning with EU rules. But the chancellor failed to deny he was the source of claims the government was interested in the Swiss approach.

One Tory MP on ERG said it was a “worrying sign” of government thinking. “We will be watching very closely for any softening in the position,” they said.

EU sources have also dismissed the idea of trying to recreate the uniquely complex, Swiss-style arrangement, pointing out that it involves more than 100 bilateral deals.

But some business leaders are encouraged by the shift in the debate, with the possibility of single market access in future now up for discussion.

Former Siemens UK chief executive Juergen Maier – vice-chair of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership – urged Mr Sunak to “open his mind” about alignment with EU rules to gain fuller access to the single market.

“We need to be able to have a conversation about alignment,” the business leader told The Independent this week. “The idea of a Swiss-style arrangements is not a bad direction, but is it the answer? No. It would take forever to arrange many bilateral agreements that the Swiss have with the EU.”

Mr Maier added: “A better model is fuller access to the single market, whether it’s done by EEA (European Economic Area) membership or a bespoke arrangement. It’s time to open the mind and truly listen to business.”