EU leaders offered to put Brexit on hold for five years and negotiate 'new deal for Europe' - May’s effective deputy claims
EU leaders made a secret offer to put Brexit on hold for five years and negotiate a ‘new deal for Europe’ in order to try walk back Brexit, it has been claimed.
Theresa May’s effective deputy makes the claim in a BBC Panorama programme tonight which also reveals the outgoing Prime Minister’s fears that Brexit will lead to a united Ireland.
Mrs May is set to cede power to either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt next week, both of whom insist they are prepared to crash out of the EU unless changes to the Withdrawal Agreement.
But the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier says the deal, including the Irish backstop, cannot be renegotiated ahead of the next Brexit deadline of October 31.
Asked by the BBC’s Nick Robinson what would happen if the UK ‘just tore up the membership card’, Mr Barnier replied: “The UK will have to face the consequences.”
The Frenchman says Mrs May and British ministers “never” suggested they might go for a No Deal Brexit during negotiations.
When asked if she or her ministers ever said or threatened a No Deal scenario Mr Barnier said: “No, no I never listened to such a sentence. Never.”
He added: “I think that the UK side, which is well informed and competent and knows the way we work on the EU side, knew from the very beginning that we’ve never been impressed by such a threat. It’s not useful to use it”.
Mr Barnier said that the Withdrawal Agreement “is the only way to leave the EU in an orderly manner”.
“We have put in the document [the Withdrawal Agreement] with the UK - not against the UK, with the UK - the legal answers to each and every point of uncertainty created by Brexit. That is the point.”
The Secretary General of the European Commission Martin Selmayr told the same programme that he is “very certain” the UK was unprepared to leave without a deal in March 2019.
“We have seen what has been prepared on our side of the border for a hard Brexit. We don’t see the same level of preparation on the other side of the border,” he said.
Martin Selmayr also revealed that in the summer of 2018 European leaders would have welcomed a decision by the UK to reverse Brexit.
This view is backed up by David Lidington, Theresa May’s effective deputy, who says a previously unreported offer was made during a private lunch with Mr Selmayr last year.
Mr Lidington said: “Martin sort of said ‘look, why don’t we have a deal whereby we just put all this on ice for five years… Let’s see how things go, let’s get the UK involved with France and Germany, let’s see how the dust settles and let’s talk about whether we can come to a new deal for Europe’.”
When asked if he was tempted to explore the offer further, Mr Lidington said: “I said, ‘look we’ve had a referendum. Practically all of us in Parliament said we were going to accept the result of that referendum whether it went our way or not… and that matters in British democratic politics and I don’t think there can be going back on that”.
Mrs May’s Chief of Staff Gavin Barwell said that the Prime Minister was fearful that a No Deal Brexit could have precipitated the break-up of the United Kingdom, leading to a united Ireland and potentially an independent Scotland.
He spoke of a meeting in Northern Ireland in February 2019 with worried community leaders which had “a profound impression” on Mrs May.
“They all spoke incredibly powerfully about the combination of the lack of devolved government and the fear of a No Deal Brexit.
“And the two things combined and the attitudes that they were seeing in their communities and what they felt was a growing support for a change in the status of Northern Ireland which they felt would be hugely accelerated if the UK left without a deal.”
He continued: “As a unionist, that made a profound impression on the Prime Minister and I think she also feels that if that developed momentum in Northern Ireland, there could be a knock on effect then to Scotland as well.”