EU leaders in 'secret strategy to force soft Brexit'
Top Brussels officials are reportedly working on a secret plan to push the British government towards staying in the EU's customs union after Brexit.
According to the Times, European Council president Donald Tusk is behind a "forgive and forget" strategy to allow the UK to change course, while also stressing the negative impact of leaving the trading bloc.
Both Mr Tusk and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker issued messages last week suggesting they would welcome the UK back into the EU in future.
"We are not throwing out the British, we want them to stay," Mr Juncker told reporters. "And if they want to, they should be able to."
A diplomatic source told the Times there was a clear twin-track approach from the EU.
“The warm messaging that the door is open for Britain to stay in the EU will continue. In contrast, negotiations are going to show what a hard road lies ahead for Britain,” they said.
“There has been a very noticeable shift as the year starts to make it all less palatable,” another unnamed negotiator added.
Chancellor Philip Hammond and Business Secretary Greg Clark are both believed to be sympathetic to staying in the customs union, while the paper suggests even committed Brexiteer Michael Gove may be willing to back down.
However any change of tack would be fiercely resisted by the likes of Boris Johnson and Liam Fox, whose work on new trade deals would be scuppered by remaining in the customs union.