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Brexit: Confusion over claim leaders of several European countries back new referendum on UK's withdrawal from EU

Liberal Democrats insist statement was 'verbally agreed' by eight prime ministers – but EU political group denies the claim

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Thursday 22 March 2018 15:53 GMT
Russia 'staged a brazen and reckless attack' on UK, says Theresa May

Leaders of several European countries have shown their support for offering the British public a say on the final Brexit deal, the Liberal Democrats have claimed.

As Theresa May arrived in Brussels for a crucial EU summit, Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable held meetings on the margins with a group of European liberal prime ministers, who “verbally agreed” to back calls for fresh referendum on the final deal.

However, confusion abounded when the group representing liberal EU parties put out a contradictory statement an hour later, in which they claimed no such statement had been agreed.

The Lib Dems had sent out a press release boasting of the support of eight prime ministers, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Finland and the Czech Republic.

It claimed the leaders said: “We regret Brexit, but acknowledge the choice made by British voters for the UK Government to negotiate withdrawal.

“We further acknowledge and support the Liberal Democrats’ call for the British people to have the final say on the Brexit deal.

“All parties need to seek a broad deal accommodating both the position of the UK Government and the principles on which the European Union is built.”

In a humiliating twist, the party claimed it was backed by eight prime ministers – including Slovenian PM Miro Cerar, who resigned his post earlier this month.

Sir Vince said the statement offered a “clear signal” that the EU would “welcome an exit from Brexit with open arms”.

“Polls show that there is a growing desire among the British public for a vote on the terms of the deal. People can now be reassured that there is no desire among EU leaders to punish us if we decided to remain in the bloc,” he said.

However, the ALDE Party, an umbrella group representing liberal parties in Europe, said the statement was incorrect.

A spokesman said: “ALDE leaders did meet on 22 March in Brussels and did support Vince Cable and the Liberal Democrats.

“However, no statement was agreed upon or issued.

“If there would have been such a statement issued by the ALDE Party, it would have been done in their capacity as party leaders, not as prime ministers.”

A Liberal Democrat source said the statement had been “verbally agreed” by the prime ministers but not by all of their parties.

The mix-up came as the British Prime Minister travelled to Brussels for the European Council summit, where she urged other European leaders to unite against Russia’s “reckless and brazen” nerve agent attack in Salisbury.

Leaders of the remaining 27 EU nations are expected to rubber-stamp plans for a Brexit transition deal – as agreed by Brexit Secretary David Davis and EU Brexit chief Michel Barnier – and pave the way for talks of the future trading relationship.

Arriving at the summit, Ms May struck an optimistic note, saying: “We made considerable progress through the agreement on the implementation period, which will bring certainty to businesses and people.

“I look forward to the European Council endorsing that agreement and moving on swiftly to talk about the future partnership that we all want to build together.”

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