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Tories in 'Mexican Stand-Off' Over 'Swiss-Style' Post-Brexit Deal With EU

© AP Photo / Alberto PezzaliBrexit supporters hold the Union Jack with a text reading "Goodbye EU" as they celebrate next to a person wearing the EU flag in London, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020
Brexit supporters hold the Union Jack with a text reading Goodbye EU as they celebrate next to a person wearing the EU flag in London, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020 - Sputnik International, 1920, 21.11.2022
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has denied rumors of a closer relationship with the European bloc the UK voted to leave in 2016. But Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, who some call the de-facto PM, is a leading Tory Europhile.
Europhile Tories are in a "Mexican stand-off" with Brexiteer party-mates — with rumors of a closer "Swiss-style" relationship with Brussels swirling
In a speech to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference in Birmingham on Monday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak dismissed claims in a Sunday newspaper that his government was seeking a "Swiss-style" close regulatory relationship with the European Union (EU).
"Let me be unequivocal about this: under my leadership the UK will not pursue any relationship with Europe that relies on alignment with EU laws," The PM said. "I voted for Brexit, I believe in Brexit, and I know Brexit can deliver and is already delivering enormous benefits and opportunities."
The story has been linked to comments by new Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt — a leader of the Europhile faction in the ruling Conservatives — that he wanted to see "unfettered" trade with the bloc. Now two academics say there may be substance to the rumor.

A Pro-Finance Brexit?

Dr Roslyn Fuller, director of the non-profit think tank Solonian Democracy Institute and the author of the book 'Beasts and Gods: How Democracy Changed Its Meaning and Lost Its Purpose', told Sputnik it was "inevitable" that Brexit would resurface with a new leader, since it is still a "hot topic" which many "still hope to reverse."

"Any leader is naturally going to have to lay out their policy on this point," Fuller argued. "I think they sometimes float these things in order to test the air for support and opposition and then react to that accordingly."

She said the past 12 years years had seen a turn from the "soft-elitist Toryism" of former PM David Cameron to the "more populist stance" of Boris Johnson, who won a landslide election victory in December 2019 on the promise to "get Brexit done," which has now shifted back to the "more elitist stance of Sunak."
Fuller pointed out that many Conservative MPS owe their seats to votes won from the Brexit Party — since re-dubbed the Reform Party — which beat the Tories into fifth pace in the May 2019 European Parliament elections, toppling then-PM Theresa May who had pushed for a 'soft' Brexit.
"Thus, the Party faces immense pressure from two different directions — on the one hand to pursue the Brexit/Johnson strategy of a Brexit that is supposed to help 'the little guy' and small business in Britain, on the other the globalist, free-trade strategy that was prevalent pre-Brexit," Fuller stressed.
But the think-tank leader said the choice was not simply between staying out of the EU or rejoining. "It's about what kind of Brexit," she said. "Sunak may well be committed to Brexit while having a very different vision of what a post-Brexit Britain should look like — a more libertarian, pro-finance one."
The academic said Sunak's dire poll ratings make him a "lame-duck" PM, held hostage by the threat of his backbenchers resigning the whip and triggering a general election.
"That's the line, at this point, and hence why the Eurosceptic Tories have issued the exact message they did," Fuller said. "It's a kind of Mexican stand-off."
Protesters, one of them holding a photograph of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Britain's Home Secretary Priti Patel, stand outside the Houses of Parliament - Sputnik International, 1920, 21.11.2022
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Tory 'Red Lines'

Mark Garnett, a politics professor at Lancaster University and author of 'The British Prime Minister in an Age of Upheaval' and 'From Anger to Apathy: The British Experience', told Sputnik that the reports of a softening of Brexit came at a "very significant time."
"Last week's Autumn Statement — in effect, Britain's third budget of 2022 — exposed the poor prospects of renewed economic growth in the country under its present circumstances," Garnett said.
He argued there was mounting evidence that Britain's economic performance through the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing energy crisis was affected by its exit from the EU.
"If trading conditions between Britain and the EU could be relaxed, the outlook for growth would obviously be brighter," he asserted.
But the academic called talk of a 'Swiss-style' deal "misleading", as Switzerland has never been a member of the bloc but had drawn closer through over a hundred bilateral agreements over the last 50 years.
"Some ministers see that Britain might end up enjoying a broadly similar relationship with the EU and that this 'final destination' might be influencing their current strategy," Garnett said, but the government would want to avoid even private debates about a return to freedom of movement or European Court of Justice power over Parliamentary legislation or British court rulings.
"There are too many Conservatives — in government, on the Westminster backbenches, and in the constituency parties — who would consider leaving the party if any of these Brexit 'red lines' looked likely to be crossed," he warned.
While many Remainers would see Swiss-style 'regulatory alignment' as the next-best thing to re-joining the crisis-ridden EU,
Many former 'Remainers' would regard this as a reasonable alternative to rejoining, Brexiteers would see it as a sell-out of newly-regained sovereignty.
"In their view, sovereignty is more important than economic benefits, and in any case it is too early to judge the economic effects of Brexit since Britain only left in January 2020," Garnett said.
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The author warne that even rumors of a Swiss-style deal are "potentially disastrous" for the Conservatives.
"Many party members already suspect Sunak — and his Chancellor, the former 'Remainer' Jeremy Hunt — of being 'soft' on Brexit," he said, while many grass-roots members might defect to Nigel Farage's Reform Party.
"Many Conservative MPs have accepted that their party is likely to lose the next general election, so they have nothing to lose if they make life even more difficult for their new leader," Garnett argued. "The Conservatives have an instinct for political survival, but this is likely to be tested to the limit over the coming weeks and months."
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