As British voters cool on Brexit, UK softens tone towards EU

Nov 20, 2022, 8:28 AM | Updated: 8:49 am
FILE - A Union flag waves behind a European Union flag, outside the Houses of Parliament, in London...

FILE - A Union flag waves behind a European Union flag, outside the Houses of Parliament, in London, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022. The British government on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022 denied a report it is seeking a “Swiss-style” relationship with the European Union that would remove many of the economic barriers erected by Brexit — even as it tries to repair ties with the bloc after years of acrimony. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali, File)

(AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali, File)

LONDON (AP) — The British government on Sunday denied a report that it is seeking a “Swiss-style” relationship with the European Union that would remove many of the economic barriers erected by Brexit — even as it tries to improve ties with the bloc after years of acrimony.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay told Sky News “I don’t recognize” the Sunday Times report, insisting the U.K. was still determined to “use the Brexit freedoms we have” by diverging from the EU’s rules in key areas.

Switzerland has a close economic relationship with the 27-nation EU in return for accepting the bloc’s rules and paying into its coffers.

The U.K. government said “Brexit means we will never again have to accept a relationship with Europe that would see a return to freedom of movement, unnecessary payments to the European Union or jeopardize the full benefit of trade deals we are now able to strike around the world.”

But despite the denials, the new Conservative government led by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wants to restore relations with the EU, acknowledging that Brexit has brought an economic cost for Britain. Treasury chief Jeremy Hunt last week expressed optimism that trade barriers between the U.K. and the EU would be removed in the coming years.

The shift comes as public opposition grows to the hard form of Brexit pursued by successive Conservative governments since British voters opted by a 52%-48% margin to leave the bloc in a 2016 referendum.

Now, according to polling expert John Curtice, 57% of people would vote to rejoin the bloc and 43% to stay out.

When the U.K. was negotiating its divorce from the EU, Conservative governments under Prime Ministers Theresa May and her successor Boris Johnson ruled out remaining inside the EU’s borderless single market or its tariff-free customs union. Politicians who wanted closer ties were ignored or pushed aside.

The divorce deal struck by the two sides in 2020 has brought customs checks and other border hurdles for goods, and passport checks and other annoyances for travelers. Britons can no longer live and work freely across Europe, and EU citizens can’t move to the U.K. at will.

The British government’s fiscal watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility, said last week that leaving the EU has had “a significant adverse effect on U.K. trade.”

Yet only recently have members of the government begun acknowledging Brexit’s downsides. Hunt, who last week announced a 55 billion-pound ($65 billion) package of tax increases and spending cuts to shore up an economy battered by soaring inflation, acknowledged Brexit had caused “trade barriers” with the U.K.’s nearest neighbors.

“Unfettered trade with our neighbors is very beneficial to growth,” he told the BBC, and predicted that the “vast majority” of barriers would be removed – although it would take years.

Any move to rebuild ties with the EU will face opposition from the powerful euroskeptic wing of the Conservative Party. Even the opposition Labour Party — reluctant to reopen a debate that split the country in half and poisoned politics — says it won’t seek to rejoin the bloc, or even the EU’s single market, if it takes power after the next election.

Sunak, who took office last month, is a long-time Brexit supporter, but also a pragmatist who has made repairing the economy his top priority. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has rocked European security and sent energy prices soaring, has put Brexit squabbles into perspective for politicians on both sides of the English Channel.

Sunak wants to solve a festering feud with the EU over trade rules that have caused a political crisis in Northern Ireland, the only part of the U.K. that shares a border with an EU member nation. When Britain left the bloc, the two sides agreed to keep the Irish border free of customs posts and other checks because an open border is a key pillar of the peace process that ended 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland.

Instead, there are checks on some goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the U.K. That angered pro-British unionist politicians, who say the new checks undermine Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom. They are boycotting Belfast’s power-sharing government, leaving Northern Ireland without a functioning administration.

The U.K. government is pinning its hopes on striking a deal with the EU that would ease the checks and coax Northern Ireland’s unionists back into the government.

Months of talks when Johnson was in office proved fruitless, but the mood has improved since Sunak took over, though as yet there has been no breakthrough. ___

Follow AP’s coverage of Brexit at https://apnews.com/hub/brexit and of British politics at https://apnews.com/hub/british-politics

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - Capital murder defendant and former U.S. Border Patrol Juan David Ortiz looks around the cou...
Associated Press

Jurors hear ex-Border Patrol agent’s confession in killings

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Jurors in the capital murder trial of a former U.S. Border Patrol agent have heard a taped interview in which he confesses to the 2018 killings of four sex workers in South Texas. If convicted of capital murder, Juan David Ortiz, 39, faces life in prison without parole because prosecutors are […]
19 hours ago
FILE - A Twitter logo hangs outside the company's San Francisco offices on Nov. 1, 2022. A top Euro...
Associated Press

As Musk is learning, content moderation is a messy job

Now that he’s back on Twitter, neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin wants somebody to explain the rules. Anglin, the founder of an infamous neo-Nazi website, was reinstated Thursday, one of many previously banned users to benefit from an amnesty granted by Twitter’s new owner Elon Musk. The next day, Musk banished Ye, the rapper formerly known as […]
19 hours ago
FILE - In this photo taken by an individual not employed by the Associated Press and obtained by th...
Associated Press

Iran morality police status unclear after ‘closure’ comment

CAIRO (AP) — An Iranian lawmaker said Sunday that Iran’s government is “paying attention to the people’s real demands,” state media reported, a day after a top official suggested that the country’s morality police whose conduct helped trigger months of protests has been shut down. The role of the morality police, which enforces veiling laws, […]
19 hours ago
Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the J Street National Conference at the Omni Shoreham H...
Associated Press

Blinken vows US support for Israel despite unease over gov’t

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday the U.S. will not shrink from its unwavering support for Israel despite stark differences with Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu and concerns the Biden administration may have about potential members of his incoming right-wing government. Speaking to a left-leaning group that some on the right accuse […]
19 hours ago
Associated Press

Farmer: Georgia dog injured saving sheep from coyote attack

DECATUR, Ga. (AP) — A Georgia sheepdog is recovering at home two days after killing a pack of coyotes that attacked his owner’s flock of sheep, farmer John Wierwiller said. Casper, a 20-month old Great Pyrenees from Decatur, fought off a pack of coyotes who were threatening Wierwiller’s sheep farm, he said. The fight lasted […]
19 hours ago
Associated Press

Report: Woman attacks 6 deputies at New Orleans airport

Officials say a woman bit, kicked and spat on six sheriff’s deputies while refusing to exit a plane at an airport in Louisiana early Thanksgiving Day, The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reported Saturday. Authorities said the 25-year-old woman attacked Jefferson Parish sheriff’s deputies at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, according to local news reports. […]
19 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet edges out cable for everyday use

In a world where technology drives so much of our daily lives, a lack of high-speed internet can be a major issue.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Here are 4 signs the HVAC unit needs to be replaced

Pool renovations and kitchen upgrades may seem enticing, but at the forefront of these investments arguably should be what residents use the most. In a state where summertime is sweltering, access to a functioning HVAC unit can be critical.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Ways to prevent clogged drains and what to do if you’re too late

While there are a variety of ways to prevent clogged drains, it's equally as important to know what to do when you're already too late.
As British voters cool on Brexit, UK softens tone towards EU