Jeremy Hunt has said neither he nor a member of the Treasury ‘set hares running’ as the source behind a story about the government considering a Swiss-style Brexit deal.
Discussing the Sunday Times story suggesting the government favours a Swiss-style arrangement, the chancellor told the Commons Treasury Select Committee that he is “not the source of any suggestion that we want to move away from the TCA (Trade and Cooperation Agreement)”.
He also ruled out any suggestion that the government intends to re-join the European Union’s single market.
“We support the Trade and Cooperation Agreement. We think it is an excellent agreement that was negotiated by Boris Johnson and David Frost,” Mr Hunt said.
“We do not support, we would not contemplate, I do not support, I have never contemplated any agreement which means moving away from the TCA, that means we are not negotiating or deciding the regulations that we want as sovereign equals, paying unnecessary money to the EU or indeed compromising on freedom of movement.
“That has always been my position as chancellor.
“With respect to the story in the Sunday Times, if you’re saying was the Treasury, was I, the source for any suggestion we should seek to renegotiate the TCA to move it towards an agreement more like the agreement with Switzerland, the answer is no.
“If you are saying do I believe that we could remove the physical barriers to trade in the way that happens on the Franco-Swiss border, the Norway-Sweden border, maybe in a way that is relevant for the NIP (Northern Ireland Protocol) issues… that’s been my public position for some time.”
Treasury Committee chairwoman Harriett Baldwin told Mr Hunt: “It sounds like the hares that suddenly set off onto the front page of The Sunday Times may have started their run from the Treasury.”
The chancellor continued: “I am not and the Treasury is not the source of any suggestion that we want to move away from the TCA (Trade and Cooperation Agreement) or not have sovereign control of our regulations.
“If you are saying ‘do I believe that technology can reduce barriers to trade’, yes I do and I think that could be a very important way forward.
“In the context of people saying Brexit trade barriers are the cause of our problems, my answer is I think technology will be a solution.”
He added: “I think you would have to talk to the Sunday Times, but I want to be clear about what I have said in public and in private and be absolute clear that my position and the government’s position has been and has always been to support the TCA, full regulatory independence and I think you can look at the autumn statement to see that is what I believe, because it’s what I actually did.”
“I can rule out any suggestion that it has ever been the government’s intention to move away from the TCA, to move to a situation where we don’t have full control of our regulations, to compromise (on) freedom of movement – I can absolutely say that has never been our position and we have not set those hares running, no.”
Elsewhere in the committee hearing, in a slight dig at his predecessor Kwasi Kwarteng and former PM Liz Truss, Mr Hunt said: “There’s only one thing worse than a forecast and that’s not having a forecast.”
Mr Kwarteng dodged a forecast from the Office for Budget Responsibility before his disastrous mini-budget.
Mr Hunt tread very carefully over the issue of non-dom tax changes.
The chancellor told the committee he wants to make sure “wealthy foreigners pay as much tax in this country as possible”, but added: “I don’t want to do anything that loses more than we save.
“If you look at the budget, we did deliver on the commitment that those with the broadest shoulders will shoulder the largest burden.”
He added that those with non-dom status input £8bn a year to the UK economy and that he “would rather they stayed here and spent their money here” instead of moving abroad.
Mr Hunt said he has asked for figures stating closing the tax loophole for non-doms would raise £3.5bn a year to be looked into.
A person who is registered as non-domiciled (non-dom) with HMRC is a tax resident in the UK but does not have to pay UK tax on income and capital gains earned overseas unless they bring their money into the UK or deposit it into a UK bank account.
However, non-doms do still have to pay tax on money earned within the UK.