Government left red-faced by picture of ‘have cake and eat it’ Brexit memo

Posted On: 
29th November 2016

The Government has attempted to play down a memo caught on camera that suggests the UK is looking to “have its cake and eat it” in the upcoming negotiations to leave the European Union.

A photographer captured the notes on long-lens camera
PA Images

In images some have taken to indicate ministers are resigned to a hard Brexit, the notes describe how it is “unlikely” that Britain will be “offered” the EU Single Market.

It also appears to play down the possibility of a transitional arrangement being in place at the completion of the two-year Article 50 period, which would allow the UK access to the single market while completing a free trade agreement.

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The handwritten notes belonged to an aide to Tory MP Mark Field, captured as they walked from the Department for Exiting the European Union at 9 Downing Street towards Number 10. Photographer Steve Back took the images on a long-lens camera. 

They are deeply embarrassing for the Government, which has consisiently said it will not provide a "running commentary" on its Brexit plans.

The notes say: "Transitional - loath to do it. Whitehall will hold onto it. We need to bring an end to negotiations."

And they suggest that the UK is going to find strong opposition in the form of French officials, who are "likely to be the most difficult" as they are "fearful of us as competitor".

But Downing Street was quick to stress the notes did not reflect the Government’s Brexit stance.

"These individual notes do not belong to a government official or a special adviser. They do not reflect the Government's position in relation to Brexit negotiations," a spokesman said.

The notes also refer to difficulties the Government faces before it initiates Article 50.

According to the memo, EU lead negotiator Michel Barnier wants to see the “what deal looks like first” before Article 50 implementation.

"Got to be done in parallel - 20 odd negotiations. Keep the two years. Won't provide more detail. We think it's unlikely we'll be offered single market," they also say.

Mr Field is vice-chairman (international) of the Conservative party.

Elsewhere, the notes said:

  • Financial services: "Services harder - because French hoping for business."

  • Negotiations: "French likely to be the most difficult. Don't want instability in Europe. Fearful of us as competitor."

  • Potential trade deal: "Looking at Canadian deal and add to it."

  • Norway-style deal: "Why no Norway - two elements. No ECJ (European Court of Justice) intervention. Unlikely to do internal market."

  • Immigration: "ECJ and control of borders won't fit."