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LONDON – Theresa May’s government is reportedly heading towards a Swiss-style model for its relationship with the European Union after Brexit.
To the frustration of hardline Brexiteers within the Conservative Party, the deal Switzerland has with the EU is now being seriously considered within Whitehall and has not been ruled out by the prime minister, according to Politico.
One UK official told Politico: “It’s one of the potential routes being discussed.”
Switzerland enjoys almost maximum access to the European single market, through a free-trade deal with the EU that relies on regulatory alignment. However, if it breaks a single clause in a trade agreement the whole deal falls apart.
Brexiteers who want a clean withdrawal from the EU are worried that this agreement would keep Britain tied to EU infrastructure but with less of a voice to change procedure, and therefore British negotiators are reportedly trying to find a way to gain single market access without being tied in like Switzerland.
The deal would be agreed”chapter by chapter,” meaning it could take place over a number of years during an implementation period, and if one part of agreement failed, it would not automatically all collapsed.
May ruled out a Canadian style free trade agreement in her Florence Speech, as it does not give the UK enough access to the EU economy, and also said that a Norwegian EEA option was too restrictive for Britain post-Brexit.
The Swiss model without the dangerous break clauses is a third way to a future relationship between the EU and UK, according to ministers and officials who back this option, cited by Politico.
The prime minister said last week that this was possible because of the close regulatory alignment Britain already has with the bloc, because of its 40 years of membership.
She said: “There will be areas where we want to achieve the same goals in the same ways because it makes sense for our economies,” but the decisions over alignment or divergence with EU regulations “will have consequences for the UK’s access to the EU market and the EU’s access to our market.”
The government is determined to have a trade deal with the EU that has red lines over how far each side could diverge from each other, and would also create a court of arbitration for if either side broke trading rules.
The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said in September: “Naturally, if the United Kingdom wanted to go further than the type of free-trade agreement we have just signed with Canada, there are other models on the table.
“But one thing is sure: It is not – and will not – be possible for a third country to have the same benefits as the Norwegian model but the limited obligations of the Canadian model.”