The Government’s Brexit negotiating position is to “have cake and eat it”, according to a memo carried into a Downing Street meeting which discloses an ambitious new trade deal will have to be agreed outside the single market.
A document held by an aide to Mark Field, vice chairman of the Conservative Party, also suggests Britain is “loath” to introduce “transitional” controls after it quits the bloc - signaling a reluctance to give business access to the single market for a limited period.
To date, Prime Minister Theresa May has been unwilling to detail the Government’s stance ahead of triggering Article 50, and setting in motion the two-year negotiations to secure the UK’s exit. Instead of a “running commentary”, the mantra has been only: Brexit means Brexit.
So the glimpse of an A4-sized piece of paper, prepared ahead of a meeting at the Department for Exiting the European Union, is as much as most outside the heart of Government know about the strategy.
The SNP said the memo showed the “Tories have no plan for Brexit” and are “just trying to make it up as they go along”.
The memo was caught on camera by photographer, Steve Black.
And was swiftly transcribed, at least in part.
The most striking section notes “it’s unlikely we’ll be offered single market” - suggesting there is an acceptance the UK will have to leave the free-trade area, as well as the European Union itself.
It appears to suggest that the UK’s ambitions for “have cake and eat it” could be thwarted by a “very French negotiating team” - indicating Whitehall fears Gallic intransigence during negotiations.
Elsewhere it references being “Canada plus”, a reference to the North American country’s trading deal with the EU - a tariff-lite pact with fewer obligations than Norway, which is also outside the union but has its own deal as a member of the European Economic Area.
Indeed, the document gives reasons for “why no Norway” - including leaving the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice as it does not fit with the PM’s determination to curb immigration.
Stephen Gethins, the SNP’s Europe spokesperson, said:
“At every turn it becomes increasingly clear that the Tories have no plan for Brexit and now it’s clear they’re just trying to make it up as they go along.
“While the SNP has emphasised at every stage the importance of remaining within the single market, the UK government are simply crossing their fingers and hoping for the best. But governing on a wing and prayer when our future in Europe is at stake is completely reckless.
“These notes reveal a government with no direction, and no clue. And worryingly those in favour of taking us out of the EU appear set to cut off their nose to spite their face – with an apparent call to end any negotiations with Europe before they’ve properly begun and already wishing to pull the plug on the prospect of transitional arrangements.
“These scribbled papers, however scant, seem to be the only plan the UK Government has and stand starkly in contrast to the very clear plans set out by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in the aftermath of the EU Referendum.
“If they weren’t so deeply troubling, these revelations would be risible. Public patience has worn thin with stonewalling and obfuscating from the UK government – it’s now high time they set out a proper plan on leaving the EU as opposed to hastily jotted down notes, so short on substance.”