A senior European diplomat has suggested Britain may well be able to achieve a “soft Brexit”.
Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s foreign minister, has floated the idea that the UK could remain in the single market.
But, he said, that would come at a price – namely the UK continuing to accept EU workers’ freedom of movement.
Gabriel also told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that there was ‘wriggle room’ on the thorny issue of the European Court of Justice.
Prime Minister Theresa May has pledged to take the UK out of its jurisdiction – and Gabriel said that a deal could be struck there also.
His comments came as Brexit Secretary David Davis and Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, sit down today on day one of the start of formal talks.
Gabriel’s comments will both give heart to Remainers who have been pressing for a more realistic Brexit strategy and dismay staunch Leavers who see any such compromises as betraying the 52% of Britons who voted to quit the EU last summer.
Gabriel said “it would naturally be best if Britain didn’t leave at all”. However, he said: “It doesn’t look like that at the moment. But we want to keep the door open for the British.” Newly elected France president Emmanuel Macron has also said the UK would be welcome to change its mind right up until the talks conclude.
Gabriel told the newspaper that “maybe there is now a chance to achieve a so-called ‘soft Brexit’”.
However, he said the UK would have to allow free movement to access the single market but did say the EU are willing to reduce the jurisdiction of EU judges in Britain.
He offered the concession of “a joint court that is staffed by Europeans and Britons which in principle follows the decisions of the European Court of Justice”.
She has vowed in the past that “no deal is better than a bad deal” – but it appears now that the EU is more sympathetic to offering her Brexit team “get outs”.
There is little consensus on whether Britain’s negotiating hand as a whole has been damaged by the election result.
Most commentators believe the vote sent a message that the British public do not want a “hard Brexit” – quitting all aspects of the EU, closing the borders to free movement, walking away from the European courts, abandoning the single market and customs union.
Gabriel, a close ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, strongly criticised the Conservative party, saying that they “played with the emotions of citizens in Britain, told fake news about Europe and left people unclear about what consequences this would all have”.
Referring to the “difficult, even impossible situation” created by the indecisive election, he added: “here, those who created such chaos would have long since gone.”
He said: “We will negotiate fairly. And fair means that we want to keep the British as close as possible to the EU — but never at the price that we divide the remaining 27 EU states.”