A secret memo caught on camera in the hands of an aide to a Conservative Party leader outside Downing Street after a Brexit meeting caused a stir in UK political circles on Tuesday, forcing the government to distance itself saying these were “individual notes”. The handwritten notes, carried by an aide to Conservative party MP Mark Field, the vice-chairman of the party, included phrases like “what’s the model? Have your cake and eat it” and “unlikely” in reference to the European Union single market.
“I was interested and amused to see it because it doesn’t reflect any of the conversations that I’ve been part of in Downing Street,” said UK business secretary Greg Clark, forced to react to the media storm around the notes. “I don’t know what the provenance of that note is. All I can say is that it is going to be a negotiation which has to be serious, we have to get our negotiating mandate in place but this is being done soberly and meticulously. It would be nice to have (cake and eat it) but it’s not the policy,” he told BBC.
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Downing Street said the notes, captured on a long-lens camera by photographer Steve Back, were not written by a government official and do not reflect its official position. “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 spokesperson for 10, Downing Street said.
The note also said the “French are likely to be most difficult” in reference to Britain’s impending negotiations over the terms of its withdrawal from the 28-nation economic bloc after the country voted in favour of an exit from the EU in a referendum in June.
The document also said the triggering of Article 50, which formally starts Brexit negotiations, could be “difficult”. It reveals that the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, “wanted to see what the deal looks like first” but the government does not want to provide details.
It said Britain wanted to have a “Canada plus” trade deal rather than remaining a member of the European Economic Area (EEA) but negotiating over services, especially the financial sector, is likely to be “difficult”.
The memo comes a day after pro-EU think tank British Influence said it was writing to Brexit Secretary David Davis to seek clarification on the government’s position regarding the UK’s status in the wider EEA when it quits the EU.
A spokesperson for British Influence said, “It is likely there will be a legal action because, in our view, the government has taken a stance that leaving the EU means leaving the single market”.
The latest memo, scribblings on an A4 sheet of paper, will come as an embarrassment for British Prime Minister Theresa May, who has repeatedly refused to give any details of her strategy, insisting she won’t give a “running commentary” on the process of leaving the EU amid concerns that it would give away Britain’s hand.