Britain’s finance minister said he understood Brexit had brought trade barriers with the EU, but rejected calls for Britain to rejoin the single market, arguing most barriers could be removed over time.
Jeremy Hunt’s comments come amid growing clamor from the business world for Britain to address itself re-enter the European market which enables free trade through common rules and standards.
Many importers and exporters complain that they have been seriously hampered by red tape and costs since Brexit, and many studies show that the economy has suffered as a result.
Speaking the morning after he set a strict budget plan to address the UK’s financial problems, Hunt said “unfettered trade with our neighbors and countries around the world is very beneficial for growth”, but argued that this could happen without rejoining the EU’s trading mechanism.
“I have great confidence that over the years ahead outside the single market we will be able to remove the vast majority of the trade barriers that exist between us and the EU. It will take time, there is a transition as you deliver something like Brexit which obviously people voted for and we have to achieve a great success,” the finance minister told BBC radio.
“I don’t think it’s the right way to drive growth because it would go against what people voted for when they supported Brexit, which is to have control over our borders, and membership of the single market requires the free movement of people, so I think we can find other ways to more than compensate for those advantages,” he said, arguing that British innovation offers “huge potential for growth”.
Hunt’s acceptance that the obstacles to unhindered trade are numerous stands in stark contrast to Boris Johnson’s claimwhen he negotiated a post-Brexit trade deal in 2020 as prime minister, that “there will be no non-tariff barriers to trade”.
But despite growing calls for Britain to rejoin the single market, the main opposition Labor Party also opposes the idea.
“There are lots of things we could do to fix the mess the government has made with the Brexit deal they’ve reached,” shadow finance minister Rachel Reeves said.
“For example, our agricultural industry needs a veterinary agreement so that it can trade more easily, and that would reduce some backlogs at the borders. But services are our biggest export, and yet we do not have mutual recognition of professional qualifications. Our cultural industries are our great British strength, and yet our touring artists have to go through so much bureaucracy to be able to tour Europe,” she told the BBC.
Jeremy Hunt said it would take time to achieve the government’s aim to reduce net migration and improve domestic skills, without damaging the economy. There were also some calls from leading companies and the main one employer body CBI to ease strict immigration rules after Brexit to address labor shortages.
“We’re trying to establish that longer-term solution, but we recognize that, yes, we’re going to need migration for years to come, and that’s going to be very important to the economy,” Hunt said.