'Have cake and eat it' Brexit notes played down by government

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Brexit memoImage source, Barcroft Images
Image caption,
The document referred to Brexit talks and the EU single market

The government has distanced itself from a page of Brexit notes caught on camera in Westminster.

The handwritten notes, carried by an aide to Conservative MP Mark Field, included "what's the model? Have your cake and eat it" and "unlikely" in reference to the EU single market.

They were photographed after Mr Field and his aide left a meeting with the Brexit department at 9 Downing Street.

The government said the notes did not reflect its Brexit 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 spokesman said.

The notes, held by Mr Field's chief of staff Julia Dockerill, were captured on a long-lens camera by photographer Steve Back.

"Difficult on article 50 implementation - Barnier wants to see what deal looks like first," they note, in an apparent reference to the lead EU negotiator Michel Barnier.

"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.

Image source, Barcroft Images

Among the reaction from other EU members, Luxembourg PM Xavier Bettel said of the UK stance: "They want to have their cake, eat it, and get a smile from the baker, but not the other things... there are European values which cannot be separated. No cherry-picking."

The BBC's assistant political editor Norman Smith says the government's response, playing down the picture's significance, underlines just how "awkward" it is, because it does seem to be of a view held "within" the Brexit department.

"The real damage is that phrase 'what is the model? Have cake and eat it.' The damage is the way that will be read by other EU countries," he says.

It is not known who Mr Field - a vice-chairman of the Conservative Party and MP for the Cities of London and Westminster - was meeting, or if the page of scribbled notes being carried by his aide is definitely an account of talks at the department handling Britain's departure from the EU.

The notes appear to suggest that a transitional arrangement - which would allow the UK continued access to the single market after Brexit while it negotiates a new trade deal - is also unlikely.

"Transitional - loath to do it. Whitehall will hold onto it. We need to bring an end to negotiations," the paper reads.

Analysis - By BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg

The picture is enough to give Downing Street indigestion. But as the last shenanigans over a memo suggested, unless and until Number 10 is willing to share more details of their plans, or at least be clearer about the broad answers to the questions, every scrap or information will be pored over by journalists and interested parties, eager, if not downright desperate, for more information.

If there is a vacuum, others will fill it. Downing Street is well aware of this. And some of the Number 10 team don't think it's a sustainable situation. But in the absence of a traditionally functioning opposition, and look at today's polls which suggest a stonking lead for the Tories, this lack of information does not, at least, appear to be doing much wider harm.

The document also says it is "unlikely" the UK will remain in the single market, and that a transitional arrangement, immediately after Brexit, will not happen either.

It says a deal on manufacturing should be "relatively straightforward", but one on services will be "harder" to achieve.

Image source, Barcroft Images

And in what appears to be a reference to the negotiating team the government will encounter in Brussels, the document says: "Very French. Need fair process guaranteed."

The government has refused to reveal details of its Brexit negotiation strategy in advance, saying it will not offer a "running commentary".

Debate has focused on the level of access the UK could secure to the single market, and whether this would come at the price of greater immigration controls.

For Labour, shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer called for the government "to come clean, to end this unnecessary uncertainty and publish a clear plan for Brexit".

"These disclosures are significant because they suggest that the government is not even going to fight for the single market or customs union in the negotiations. If that is the case, there are huge implications for the economy, for businesses and for jobs in the UK," he said.

Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said: "If this is a strategy it is incoherent. We can't have our cake and eat it and there is no certainty on the single market. This picture shows the government doesn't have a plan or even a clue."