Rishi Sunak expected to negotiate ‘soft Brexit’ trade deal with EU, says former Tory donor

Rishi Sunak comes under pressure from Tory eurosceptics over post-Brexit plans (Getty Images)

A billionaire former Conservative donor has said he will back the party again if the government renegotiates with the EU for a “soft” Brexit trade deal.

Guy Hands has urged Rishi Sunak to consider a radical move to restart trade talks with Brussels, saying it could help the party win the next general election.

The private equity mogul, who hasn’t offered the Tories any funding in recent years, told al I newspaper that could have donated again if the prime minister accepted that the current Brexit deal was hurting the economy.

“I am happy to support the party that puts Britain’s long-term future health above party politics. Even if a good deal with Europe won’t solve all the problems, it would be a good start,” she said.

“Voting on Brexit was intended to finally settle the Europe question in the Tory party,” said Hands, lamenting the “appalling campaign” waged by the Remainers for an unwelcome outcome in 2016.

He added: “If the Remainers in the Tory party can admit their mistakes and Brexiteers can admit that Brexit did not go as planned, then not only can Brexit renegotiation be good for the country, it can also give the Tory party the chance to unite and win the next elections”.

The founder of private equity firm Terra Firma recently attacked the “completely hopeless” hard Brexit deals agreed by Boris Johnson, which saw the UK exit the single market and EU customs union.

Hands said mounting evidence showed it was driving Britain into “a disastrous economic state” and was on its way to becoming the “sick man of Europe”.

His latest intervention comes as Sunak and his chancellor Jeremy Hunt try to iron out a row with Tory Brexiteers over a report that the government was considering ways to forge a “Swiss-style” alignment with the EU to gain access to the single market.

Mr Hunt has been at pains to reject the idea of ​​aligning with EU rules. But the chancellor did not deny that he was the source of claims that the government was interested in the Swiss approach.

A Conservative MP on ERG said it was a “worrying sign” of government thinking. “We will be watching any softening of the position very closely,” they said.

EU sources also dismissed the idea of ​​trying to recreate the single, complex, Swiss-style deal, noting that it involves more than 100 bilateral agreements.

But some business leaders are encouraged by the shift in the debate, with the possibility of future access to the single market now under discussion.

Former Siemens UK chief executive Juergen Maier, vice chairman of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, urged Sunak to “open his mind” about aligning with EU rules to gain more comprehensive access to the single market.

“We need to be able to have a conversation about alignment,” the business leader said The independent this week. “The idea of ​​a Swiss-style arrangement isn’t bad direction, but is it the answer? No. It would take forever to agree many bilateral agreements that Switzerland has with the EU.

Maier added: “A better model is more comprehensive access to the single market, whether it’s membership of the EEA (European Economic Area) or a tailor-made deal. It’s time to open your mind and really listen to the business.”

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