Rishi Sunak’s Brexit climbdowns rile Eurosceptic Tory MPs


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Conservative Eurosceptics on Friday turned on Rishi Sunak after a week in which the UK government shelved key post-Brexit policies intended to “take back control” of Britain’s borders and regulations.

Sunak invited Britons to view the benefits of Brexit through the bottom of a pint glass, visiting a beer festival to talk about how “freedom” from the EU had allowed him to hold down duty on draught beer in pubs.

But away from the boozy photo op, some Tory MPs were much more focused on the less heralded post-Brexit climbdowns being undertaken by Sunak’s government on regulations and borders.

Sunak and chancellor Jeremy Hunt say they are focused on doing everything they can to cut costs for business to help fight inflation, awkwardly conceding in the process that aspects of Brexit are pushing up prices.

“The Remain tendency inside the Treasury have triumphed for the time being and are tying us to EU regulations,” said David Jones, deputy chair of the pro-Brexit Tory European Research Group. “It’s very disappointing.”

This week Kemi Badenoch, the business secretary, ordered a retreat on Britain’s plan for a post-Brexit rival to the EU’s “CE” product quality mark, after business leaders warned the duplication was costly and pointless.

Ministers explained that the continued acceptance in Britain of safety standards set in Brussels would let firms “focus their time and money on creating jobs and growing the economy”.

The next day the Financial Times revealed that ministers were set to delay for the fifth time plans to introduce a new regime of paperwork and checks at UK ports for animal and plant products coming from the EU.

“The driving force for this is the need to be bear down on inflation,” said one government insider, admitting that imposing new costs at the border would push up prices of imported food.

The ability for Britain to control its own rules and borders were central tenets of Brexit, but Sunak, Hunt and Badenoch have shown themselves willing to ditch orthodoxy in search of growth and to fight inflation.

“The government’s latest announcements signal a shift to more pragmatism in dealing with the consequences of Brexit,” said Anton Spisak, who writes on EU/UK relations at the Tony Blair Institute, a think-tank.

“In doing so, the government has made its clearest admission yet that the costs of Brexit are inflationary and need to be reduced if ministers are serious about tackling rising prices.”

But some Brexiters see a sellout of Brexit principles. “Part of leaving the EU was to have our own regulatory regime that was more suited to UK conditions than the EU one,” Jones said. “We should be cracking on with it.”

Priti Patel, the former home secretary, said: “Free from the grip of Brussels we had a great opportunity to transform our country into a low tax beacon of free trade. But delivering on that potential has stalled.”

Brexiters believe that Sunak began his retreat from core Eurosceptic values in February, when he agreed with the EU the Windsor framework, a deal to improve the post-Brexit trade rules covering Northern Ireland.

The agreement conceded a role for the European Court of Justice in overseeing the accord and former premiers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss were among 22 Tory MPs who voted against it.

Sunak’s rout of the Eurosceptics over the Windsor deal was followed by the decision in May to abandon a totemic promise to review or scrap all “retained EU law” on the British statute book by the end of the year.

Badenoch explained the climbdown at a stormy meeting with ERG members in May, but one ally of the minister said she was unrepentant in trying to end uncertainty and cut business costs.

After her decision this week to retreat on plans for a UK rival to the EU’s CE safety mark for most goods sold in Britain, one ally of Badenoch said: “Business didn’t like it. She said: ‘Enough of this, let’s just sort it out’.”

Jones said he “suspects” that the decision to drop key Brexiter policies was made “as a result of negotiations on the Windsor framework” — in other words, it was part of a broader deal with the EU.

Hunt’s allies insist that these decisions are “not about Brexit”, but are part of the government’s focus on weeding out any policies that complicate the Bank of England’s fight against inflation.

Isaac Levido, the Tory election adviser, has long warned it would be disastrous to fight the election with large parts of Brexit unresolved, having fought the 2019 contest on a promise to “get Brexit done”.

Sunak is gradually ticking off some of the outstanding issues, although the question of when to introduce full border checks for EU imports — they are already in place for trade going the other way — is still up in the air.

Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, another Brexiter, argued when he was in the cabinet that Britain should use its Brexit freedoms to leave its borders open for “safe” imports from the EU and other countries with advanced regulation, such as the US and Australia.

But the longer the UK border remains open, the more likely it is that the issue will feature in next year’s election. Labour has promised to negotiate a veterinary deal with the EU, reducing the need for the most onerous checks.

Anand Menon, director of UK in a Changing Europe, a think-tank, welcomed what he called the “sensible politics” adopted by Sunak and his ministers in recent weeks in the face of the UK’s economic problems.

But he said: “It’s what you might call a rational Brexit. The question is whether, if you didn’t have a cost of living crisis, you would then go back to a more hardline, no compromise stance.”

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Lisa Holden
Lisa Holden
Lisa Holden is a news writer for LinkDaddy News. She writes health, sport, tech, and more. Some of her favorite topics include the latest trends in fitness and wellness, the best ways to use technology to improve your life, and the latest developments in medical research.

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