A cabinet minister has warned he would not support a closer Swiss-style relationship with the European Union following reports the government is considering the idea.
Steve Barclay, the health secretary, instead suggested ministers should focus on maximising what he said were the opportunities of Brexit.
But Mr Braclay, who campaigned for Brexit. was forced to concede there have been “difficulties” with trade since the UK left the EU.
The idea of a Swiss-style deal with the EU prompted fury among Tory Brexiteers.
Lord Frost, the former chief Brexit negotiator, said that if the reports were correct he hoped “the government thinks better of these plans, fast”. Simon Clarke, the former levelling up secretary, said: “We settled the question of leaving the European Union, definitively, in 2019.”
Former Work and Pensions Secretary Chloe Smith also hit out at the Swiss model. “I don’t think that would be a particularly wise path at this time,” she told Times Radio. She said she believed that “conservatives over recent years, (have) delivered the results of the referendum. We got Brexit done.”
Asked about reports that plans for more frictionless trade with Europe require moving to a Swiss model over the next decade, Mr Barclay said: “Well, I didn’t support that. I want to maximise the opportunities that Brexit offers.”
He told the Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme on EuroJournal: “We’ve got a prime minister who himself supported Brexit. I myself did and was Brexit secretary, and worked very hard to maximise our control of our laws, our borders and our money.
“So, it’s absolutely important, particularly in those high-growth sectors, such as financial services, life sciences and the green industries, that we really use the Brexit freedoms we have.” He added that he did not “recognise” the reports.
Issues around trade had to be looked at in the round, he said.
“There are areas where there have been difficulties in terms of greater friction and we’re looking to work constructively with EU partners on that. But, equally, there are very significant opportunities as a result of Brexit.
“I don’t think we would have done the vaccine rollout in the way that we did had we remained a member of the EU and the significant regulatory opportunities we have, and the autumn statement signalled our determination to take those,” he said.
Shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Ashworth told EuroJournal that Labour would not seek to adopt Swiss-style arrangements nor rejoin the EU single market.
He said: “We’re not proposing returning to the single market or the customs union, or anything like that.
“But we do want to negotiate a bespoke deal for the United Kingdom, so that our businesses can export, so that we can get those agreements on agriculture, so we can work together on security issues.”
Downing Street sources pointed to Mr Barclay’s comment that he did not recognise the reports ministers wanted to put the UK on a path towards a Swiss-style deal.