The British government denied Tuesday that its strategy for exiting the European Union had been leaked through a set of handwritten notes suggesting the U.K.’s aim is to “have cake and eat it.”
Despite its lofty ambition, the same document appears to concede that the government will have to quit the EU single market when it actually leaves the bloc.
The sheet of paper was being carried by an aide to senior Conservative lawmaker Mark Field outside the Department for Exiting the EU in London. It was captured by a news photographer in Downing St., home of the department’s offices and the prime minister’s residence.
The paper says: “What’s the model? Have cake and eat it.”
The densely written notes also list anticipated problems with the upcoming negotiating process with EU governments, noting, “we think it’s unlikely we’ll be offered Single Market.”
Prime Minister Theresa May plans to start the formal divorce process by the end of March, triggering two years of discussions before Britain’s EU exit.
The government has consistently refused to disclose details of what kind of deal it will seek with the EU after Brexit, saying that it would weaken the U.K.’s negotiating hand.
EU leaders have filled the vacuum by heaping pressure on Britain, warning the U.K. it will have to leave the tariff-free single market if it seeks to limit immigration from EU countries, since free movement is a fundamental principle of the bloc.
On Tuesday Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said Brexit is “going to be a tough ride” for Britain’s economy, as investors rethink their investments” amid the uncertainty.
Dijsselbloem, who also heads the group of 19 countries who use the common euro currency, said London could not be allowed to remain the EU’s financial capital after Britain leaves.
“We cannot allow the financial service center for Europe and the eurozone to be outside Europe and the eurozone and to go its own way in terms of rules and regulations,” he told European lawmakers in Brussels.
The leaked British notes include the phrases “Canada-plus” — likely a reference to a free-trade deal with the EU based on Canada’s recently concluded arrangement — and “French likely to be most difficult.”
Officials said the notes did not belong to a government official and do not reflect the government’s position.
“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,” Business Secretary Greg Clark said.
But opposition politicians said the snatched photo revealed the scale of the chaos in government ranks. Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said it “shows the government doesn’t have a plan or even a clue.”