Brexit talks can begin before Article 50 is triggered, David Cameron suggests
David Cameron has said his successor as Prime Minister could conduct informal talks with the European Union before triggering the legal process of leaving the bloc.
His comments contrast with senior EU figures, including the leaders of Germany, France and Italy, who have ruled out such discussions occurring before Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty has been initiated.
There are concerns that the UK could struggle to negotiate the exit from the EU in the two-year time frame, given the legal work required to untangle Britain’s ties with Brussels.
The Prime Minister rowed back on his pre-referendum pledge to trigger Article 50 in the event of a Brexit when he announced his intention to resign last Friday.
Instead, he says it is up to his successor in Downing Street to decide when the legal process should be set into motion.
Speaking to MPs today, Mr Cameron said that before the next Prime Minister enters the “tunnel of Article 50 negotiations”, they should have developed a “precise blueprint” of what they want to achieve in the talks.
“That will help Britain and frankly it will help the other European Union countries to understand what it is that we are shooting for,” he said in a statement on yesterday’s European Council summit.
Although EU leaders, including Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande, have talked down the prospect of informal talks, he added: “Now, they have said no negotiation without notification, but I don’t think that excludes discussions that a new Prime Minister can have with partners or indeed with the institutions so that we continue to get off on the right foot.
“That is the strong advice that I would give to them.”
German Chancellor Ms Merkel said on Monday there could not be “any further steps” until Article 50 had been initiated.
Her intervention came in a press conference in Berlin following talks with Mr Hollande and Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi.
"That means that, and we agree on this point, there will be neither informal nor formal talks on a British exit until the European Council has received the [UK's] request for an exit from the European Union," she said.
European Council president Donald Tusk today said there there would be no negotiations with the UK “of any kind” until it formally starts the withdrawal process.
The leaders of the other 27 EU member states are today meeting without Mr Cameron, who travelled back to Britain following his last European Council summit as Prime Minister.
In a blow to Leave campaigners, Mr Tusk said leaders were in agreement that the UK could not have access to the single market without accepting the free movement of people.
He said in a press conference in Brussels: "Leaders made it crystal clear that access to the single market requires acceptance of all four freedoms - including freedom of movement. There will be no single market a la carte."
Last night Mr Cameron told his European counterparts that concerns over immigration were at the hearts of the UK’s decision to leave the EU.
He told MPs today the “biggest and most difficult issue” to deal with in future talks with the EU centre around the trade-off between the free movement of people and access to the single market.
The Tory leader said: “There’s no doubt the next government is going to have to work very hard at this and I personally think access to the single market and the strength of our economy is the single most important matter.”
Conservative Brexiteer Liam Fox warned that the British people would not accept free movement, and that doing so "would be regarded as a betrayal by millions of people who voted to leave".