Brexit Secretary David Davis has apparently told a senior EU politician that Britain wants to stay in the single market, sparking further confusion about the Government’s strategy.
German MEP Manfred Weber, the chairman of the centre-right European People's Party, revealed part of his conversation with Mr Davis after a meeting in Strasbourg, France.
Mr Weber also criticised a lack of fresh information from the British government, saying: “There is no idea what Brexit really means.”
Meanwhile, Downing Street insisted Mr Davis had not revealed any policy shift, saying: “The Government’s position hasn’t changed on this.”
It is widely believed that Theresa May plans for Britain to leave the single market, as the price for meeting her red line that freedom of movement of EU citizens must end.
She is also under fierce pressure from many Tory MPs to pursue a hard Brexit in the exit talks to get underway next year.
Mr Davis held talks in Strasbourg today with Mr Weber and other senior MEPs, including Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator.
After the meeting, Mr Weber strongly criticised the way the UK is handling the Brexit process, saying: “What we really expect are clear proposals.
“Today, in my talk with David Davis, unfortunately I have not heard anything new, I have not heard much as to how the British Government wants to tackle Brexit and what Brexit really means. I have not received any new information, quite the opposite is true.
“Today I have been told that the British government, as far as the economy is concerned, it wants to stay in the single market – but the British government would also like to continue and have very close cooperation in legal issues.”
But, Mr Weber added: “Brexit means Brexit, so we are going to have to cut back on our relationships. It is not a cherry picking situation at all.”
In response, a No 10 spokesman said: “We are very clear that what we want is a trading relationship that allows UK companies to trade both with and within the single market and lets European businesses do the same.”
The No 10 spokesman declined to respond to repeated questions about whether the relationship the Government is seeking would require single market membership.
A Government source said Mr Davis had made clear that Britain wants the freest possible trading relationship with the EU, but "didn't elaborate further or prejudge how that might look".
Mr Weber’s comments are the second major confusion about the Government’s plans in 24 hours, after Ms May hinted she would seek a transitional deal – rather than a clean break in 2019.
The Prime Minister agreed there was a danger of a “cliff edge” for businesses if Britain left without a new trade deal, although No 10 later rowed back on her remarks.
Mr Weber also accused Boris Johnson of being “arrogant” because of his support for Turkish EU membership.
He said it was “unbelievable” for the Foreign Secretary to go to Ankara and speak in support of EU membership after his leading role in the Brexit campaign which warned about Turkish immigrants coming to the UK.
Mr Weber said: “He himself did, in the Brexit campaign, leaflets where he showed Turkey, Syria and Iraq as possible members of the European Union, making people afraid of possible EU migration waves.
“He used it himself and then a few weeks afterwards he is travelling to [President] Erdogan and he is offering support for becoming a member of the European Union – it is unbelievable, it is a provocation and it is arrogant what we hear from him.”Reuse content