Rishi Sunak has said he would not allow any return to alignment with EU rules, following reports the government could pursue a Swiss-style relationship with Brussels.
Speaking at the the CBI conference in Birmingham on Monday morning, the prime minister said he wanted to be “unequivocal”.
“Under my leadership, the United Kingdom will not pursue any relationship with Europe that relies on alignment with EU laws,” he said.
According to The Sunday Times, “senior government figures” were planning to put the UK on a path towards arrangements similar to Switzerland’s to ensure access to the EU’s single market.
The report alarmed Brexiteers in the Conservative Party who do not want to see the UK return to having closer links with the EU.
Sunak added: “I voted for Brexit, I believe in Brexit and I know that Brexit can deliver, and is already delivering, enormous benefits and opportunities for the country – migration being an immediate one where we have proper control of our borders and are able to have a conversation with the country about the type of migration that we want and need.
“We weren’t able to do that inside the European Union, at least now we are in control of it.”
The Swiss model would involve more liberal EU migration – although full free movement would not be on the table – and payments to the Brussels budget, the newspaper reported.
Switzerland and the EU have a close economic relationship based on a series of bilateral agreements, giving the country direct access to parts of the EU’s internal market including the free movement of people.
The UK is locked in long-running talks with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol, a post-Brexit arrangement for the region designed to avoid a border on the island of Ireland.
Unionists have opposed the protocol as impeding trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, placing a border in the Irish Sea.
This has resulted in the collapse of the Stormont Assembly, with top civil servants left to run government departments.
However, there have been renewed hopes in recent weeks that a deal can be secured and the relationship improved between the UK and the EU after years of tensions.
A Swiss-style veterinary agreement has been one of the options mooted by some on the EU side as a solution to the protocol dispute.
Meanwhile, a UK-Switzerland agreement on services was extended for three years.
The extension means UK professionals can continue to travel and operate freely in Switzerland for up to 90 days a year without needing a permit.