A new Franco-German plan for differing layers of EU membership has included a direct offer for Britain to one day sign back up to the bloc as an ‘associate’ country.
A 60-page paper – published on the same day that Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer held talks with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris – suggests ‘even the UK’ could return as part of an ‘outer tier’ of membership.
The report, commissioned by the French and German governments, envisages four levels of European integration with an ‘inner circle’ of Eurozone nations at its centre.
Britain is touted as a possible future member of the third tier, which would be based on a Norway-style relationship with Brussels.
This would see the UK fall back under the jurisdiction of EU judges, make contributions to the EU budget and rejoin the bloc’s single market, which would be likely to also include the return of free movement.
There has been scrutiny of the role played by Labour ex-prime minister Sir Tony Blair in what is being viewed as a secret plot to ‘reverse Brexit’.
A new plan for EU expansion, commissioned by the French and German governments, set out a possible four future levels of integration. This includes an ‘inner circle’ for eurozone members; existing EU countries who don’t want deeper ties; ‘associate’ members such as Norway, Switzerland and – possibly – the UK, who would be under the jurisdiction of EU judges, make contributions to the EU budget and be part of the bloc’s single market; and, in a second ‘outer tier’, those signed up to a looser relationship with Brussels through the European Political Community
The 60-page paper – published on the same day that Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer held talks with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris – suggests ‘even the UK’ could return as part of an ‘outer tier’ of EU members
The Labour leader spent 45 minutes behind closed doors with Mr Macron at the Elysee Palace yesterday
It emerged that ex-PM Sir Tony Blair used his extensive EU contacts book to arrange Sir Keir’s meeting with Mr Macron
It emerged last night that Sir Tony used his extensive EU contacts book to arrange Sir Keir’s meeting with Mr Macron at the Elysee Palace yesterday.
A Whitehall source said the former PM was ‘convinced that Brexit is now a vote-winner for Labour’ and was pushing his successor to open the door to reversing it.
‘Blair is trying to convince Starmer that the more he edges towards saying Brexit is a disaster, the better Labour will do,’ the source said.
‘He believes that reversing Brexit can be a vote-winner and he is pushing that message very hard.’
Senior Conservative MP David Jones, a former Brexit minister, told MailOnline he was ‘pretty confident’ Sir Keir would sign up to ‘associate’ membership of the EU if he became PM after the general election.
‘Starmer, it must be remembered, wanted a second referendum,’ he added.
‘He is a dyed in the wool Europhile and would love associate membership.’
Former business secretary Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg said: ‘Keir Starmer has always been a starry-eyed Europhile, he’s the champion of the second referendum, and now he wants to do it by stealth.’
Despite Sir Keir’s promise to get ‘a much better deal’ with the EU if he enters No10, Labour publicly ruled out signing up to the Franco-German blueprint for ‘associate’ membership.
Shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds told Sky News: ‘That’s not what we’re interested in, we have always made clear we think the (Brexit) deal has to be better.’
A Labour spokesman said Sir Keir would use a planned review in 2025 to improve the Brexit deal, but added: ‘Labour will seek a better deal for Britain. This does not involve any form of membership.’
Despite Sir Keir’s promise to get ‘a much better deal’ with the EU if he enters No10, Labour publicly ruled out signing up to the Franco-German blueprint for ‘associate’ membership
How would the Franco-German plan work and what would it mean for Britain?
Mr Macron has long been an advocate of a ‘multi-speed’ EU following Brexit and amid a possible enlargement of the bloc to include nations such as Ukraine and Moldova.
The Franco-German plans published yesterday – dubbed ‘Macron’s onion’ due to the differing levels of membership – were said to have been crafted with Labour in mind.
An EU source said the proposals were ‘carefully balanced politically to be a potential place for Britain without the need to ever rejoin the EU or to hold a referendum’.
The 60-page document set out a possible four future levels of EU integration.
The Inner Circle – This would be the deepest level of political and economic integration for members of the Eurozone and Schengen area, including France and Germany. This would see coordination on taxation, finances and defence and foreign policy with countries giving up their national vetoes in these areas.
The EU – Those existing and future EU members who want to remain outside of the deepest level of integration. But they would remain bound by existing EU political objectives as set out in the Lisbon Treaty.
Associate Members – The first ‘outer tier’ of EU integration would include those countries that are part of the bloc’s single market but not full members. This would include Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. The paper added ‘even the UK’ could sign up to this third tier. These countries would be under the jurisdiction of EU judges, make contributions to the EU budget and be part of the bloc’s single market, which would be likely to mean signing up to free movement rules. But ‘associate’ members would not be bound to ‘ever closer union’ and further EU integration, nor would they participate in deeper political integration in other policy areas such as justice and home affairs.
The European Political Community – The second ‘outer tier’ would see countries have a looser relationship on a bilateral basis with Brussels and not access the bloc’s single market. It would instead focus on ‘geopolitical convergence’ and political cooperation on security, energy or environmental policies. Britain has played an active part in the EPC – the brainchild of Mr Macron – since its formation last year.
The Franco-German plans published yesterday have been dubbed ‘Macron’s onion’ due to the differing levels of EU membership
Tory Brexiteers David Jones and Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg warned that Sir Keir would sign up to ‘associate’ membership of the EU if he became PM after the general election
Anna Luhrmann, Germany’s Europe minister, said enlargement of the EU was ‘in all our interests’ as she presented the report in Brussels with her French counterpart yesterday.
‘We must therefore start now to do everything possible to ensure that the EU is ready for this enlargement,’ she added.
Ukraine – along with Moldova – became candidates to join the EU last year and are hoping to get the green light to start accession talks before the end of 2023.
Sir Keir spent 45 minutes behind closed doors with Mr Macron at the Elysee Palace yesterday.
Speaking afterwards, the Labour leader described their talks as ‘very political’.
‘It was my first opportunity to say how much I value the relationship between our two countries,’ he added.
‘Particularly when it comes to prosperity and security and how, if we are privileged enough to be elected into power, intend to build on that relationship and make it even stronger than it is today.’
A senior French source told the Daily Telegraph that Sir Keir ‘came across as being someone very upright with a form of moral authority’.
They added: ‘It’s interesting that he positioned himself differently and didn’t come over like a carpet salesman touting his wares with Macron on cooperation. It’s a point in his favour.
‘This was an attempt by Starmer to impose himself as a true potential leader who manages the major issues of the day. That’s what Starmer came looking for and (Macron) gave him the impression that he could belong to the club.’
Stella Creasy, chairman of the Labour Movement for Europe, which is pushing for renewed access to the single market, said Brexit ‘cannot be made to work’.
The prominent Labour MP acknowledged that becoming a full EU member again would take years, but added: ‘None of that means we can’t aim high for 2025 if we start now. That is what we are seeing today with Keir in Paris.’
Downing Street said Rishi Sunak was not interested in pursuing associate membership of the EU.
Labour declined to comment on whether Sir Keir had discussed the proposal for a new form of membership with Mr Macron.
Sir Tony also declined to comment last night.
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