UK denies claims it is seeking closer ties with EU

Health Secretary Steve Barclay

Britain's health minister on Sunday denied a newspaper report that said his government was seeking closer ties with the European Union, just three years after leaving the bloc.

The Sunday Times cited an unnamed minister as saying that the government was pursuing a Swiss-style relationship with the EU.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay, a former Brexit minister, told Sky News: "I don't recognise this story at all."

"I don't support that. I want to maximise the opportunities that Brexit offers," he added.

"We've got a prime minister who himself supported Brexit. I myself did and was Brexit secretary, and worked very hard to maximise our control of our laws, our borders and our money."

The Sunday Times said the move, which would be deeply unpopular with Conservative Brexit-supporting MPs, could take place over the next decade in a bid to reduce current trade barriers.

Britain voted to leave the EU in 2016 and finally reached a deal with the EU three years later.

Unable to get it through parliament, then prime minister Boris Johnson called a general election and made the deal a key plank of his manifesto.

He won a landslide election, allowing the agreement to become law.

But Barclay admitted that the deal had created "difficulties", with "greater friction" over trade.

The paper reported that the UK was prepared to pay into the EU coffers but would not agree to a return to freedom of movement.