UK: Rishi Sunak rejects any desire to soften an increasingly unpopular Brexit

Would the British government like to reconsider the terms of Brexit? The subject is still just as explosive in the United Kingdom, where Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had to deny such intentions, announced in the press. “Let me be clear about this. Under my leadership, Britain will not seek any relationship with Europe based on alignment with EU laws,” the prime minister, an early pro-Brexitist, told a conference of the CBI, the country’s main employers’ organisation, and added that Brexit “is already bringing significant benefits and opportunities to the country”.

The United Kingdom left the European Union in January 2021 after years of an intense political battle to fix the new relationship between the two entities. On Sunday, the Sunday Times had claimed that “members of the government are planning to move the UK towards a relationship similar to Switzerland’s with the EU”. An initiative that would be “intended to strengthen economic ties” with the EU.

“Don’t betray us on Brexit”, writes the Daily Mail

This information caused an outcry among Brexit supporters. “The government needs to focus on what it needs to do, rather than trying to reopen an already settled debate on Europe,” tackled Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith in the columns of the Sun. “Don’t betray us on Brexit,” said the popular Daily Mail, a big defender of leaving the EU, on Monday. In an attempt to quell the outcry, a spokesman for the Conservative government had already dismissed such a project on Sunday, describing the article as “categorically false”.

And on Monday morning, the Secretary of State for Immigration Robert Jenrick assured that Britain now had “a well-defined position” on its relationship with Brussels, with the agreement reached in 2019.

The UK has thus left the single market, although trade remains largely duty-free, has ended free movement and no longer contributes financially to the EU. But last week the words of Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt, who said he wanted to see “the vast majority” of tariff barriers between his country and the EU, had already raised questions about the government’s intentions. Especially as he is currently negotiating fiercely with Brussels to amend the protocol on Northern Ireland to settle the issue of the province’s status amid a political stalemate.

“A major economic and financial crisis”

This sequence “is interesting because it seems to show that Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt (…) admit that the ATT (the trade and cooperation agreement signed between the EU and the UK) is bad for the economy. But the clamor and denial show , how difficult it will be for a Conservative government to admit this, said John Springford, a researcher at the Center for European Reform and an opponent of Brexit.

More and more Britons are regretting leaving the EU. According to a poll published by the YouGov institute last week, support for Brexit is at a record low, with 56% of Britons believing it was a mistake.

This controversy comes as the country is going through a major economic and financial crisis. Most economists and business leaders see Brexit as an aggravating factor in the crisis, which is also caused by the war in Ukraine. Since the United Kingdom left the EU, it has had to terminate trade agreements and has notably concluded some with the EU and several European countries, but also with New Zealand and Australia. Discussions are underway with India, Canada or the United States.

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