UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak rejected calls from the strongest business lobby, the Confederation of British Industry, CBI, for closer ties with the European Union to address damaging trade barriers born out of Brexit, and also ruled out softer immigration rules to help with labor shortages.
Addressing the annual CBI conference on Monday in Birmingham, PM Brexit insisted Brexit is already delivering enormous benefits and opportunities and discarded growing appeals from the UK business world for closer trade relations with the EU, in the face of increased red tape and costs faced by many importers and exporters.
Let me be unequivocal about this. Under my leadership the United Kingdom will not pursue any relationship with Europe that relies on alignment with EU laws, Sunak said at the CBI conference.
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.
Earlier, the CBI also reiterated a call for more migration to address chronic shortages in the labor market. CBI Director-General Tony Danker said Britain should create a program of temporary work visas to boost economic growth.
We don't have enough Brits to go round for the vacancies that exist, and there's a skills mismatch in any case, he said ahead of the conference.
Let's have economic migration in areas where we aren't going to get the people and skills at home anytime soon. In return, let's make those visas fixed-term, he added.
But when PM Sunak was asked whether he was listening to both calls, he sidestepped the question.
I think the country's number one priority right now, when it comes to migration, is tackling illegal migration. It's stopping people coming here illegally in small boats across the Channel
Last week the British and French governments agreed on a revised deal to boost efforts to stop the rising numbers of people arriving on English shores after leaving the French coast in flimsy dinghies.
The British government dismissed a newspaper report on Sunday Times that it was exploring a Swiss-style trade relationship with the EU. Switzerland has access to the EU's single market, but in return has to accept certain conditions on budget contributions and migration.
PM Sunak added that Britain now had proper control over its borders and could have a proper conversation with the country about the type of migration it needed. We weren't able to do that inside the European Union. At least now we are in control of it, Sunak added.
However MPs from the ruling Conservative Party's Euro-skeptic European Research Group (ERG) warned Sunak on Sunday against pursuing closer ties with the bloc.
Last Friday Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt admitted that Brexit had erected barriers to trade but ruled out single market membership as it requires free movement of people.
On the same day, the government's official forecaster, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), said in its updated economic outlook that the latest evidence suggests that Brexit has had a significant adverse impact on UK trade, via reducing both overall trade volumes and the number of trading relationships between UK and EU firms.
Nevertheless the idea that the Sunak government was considering a Swiss style relationship with the EU was quickly dealt with a tour of broadcast studios including Health Secretary Steve Barclay.
We've got a prime minister who himself supported Brexit. I myself did and was Brexit secretary, and worked very hard to maximize our control of our laws, our borders and our money, said Secretary Barclay.
So it's absolutely important, particularly in those high growth sectors such as financial services, life sciences and the green industries, that we use the Brexit freedoms we have, so we don't recognize this story at all,
Asked if he could support a Swiss-Style relationship he said, Well I didn't support that. I want to maximize the opportunities that Brexit offers.
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.