Prominent Brexit supporters are meeting the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier on Wednesday afternoon, on a mission that is part-charm offensive, part-warning not to underestimate the UK.
The delegation of pro-Brexit British businessmen, led by UKIP (UK Independence Party) MEP Steven Woolfe, were preparing a hamper of iconic British products – including cheddar cheese and Shakespeare plays – to offer the top EU official. But the Marmite and PG tips come laced with a steely message that the UK is ready to walk away from trade talks without a deal.
Woolfe is being accompanied by Digby Jones, international businessman and member of the House of Lords, Labour activist and entrepreneur John Mills, and John Longworth, a former head of the British Chambers of Commerce and co-chairman of the campaign group “Leave Means Leave”.
The MEP said the delegation wanted to show Brexiteers had a “positive vision” of future trading relations and that they wanted a deal with the EU. But they also intended to dispel arguments put forward by some politicians that Brexit could be reversed.
“The EU and ourselves should actually try to avoid a zero-sum game a ‘no deal’ could achieve,” Steven Woolfe told HuffPost UK.
Longworth said he would tell Barnier that any post-Brexit trade deal must not restrict the UK’s “economic and regulatory freedom”, according to Alliance News.
With the meeting in progress, Barnier's adviser Stefaan De Rynck tweeted a short list of the gifts his boss liked in particular – highlighting the "EU protected origin" of Dorset cheese, and the "EU organic logo" on the jar of orange marmalade. Reporters had pointed out the EU connections of some of the products.
On Monday MEP and former UKIP leader Nigel Farage came out of a meeting with Michel Barnier criticising the negotiating stance of both the British government (for “not representing leavers’ views on immigration”) and the European Commission, which he said still displayed an “absolute incomprehension” about Brexit.
Pro-Remain UK politicians who are not part of the British government have also held meetings with Barnier.
Meanwhile senior UK ministers, the finance minister Philip Hammond and Brexit secretary David Davis, are seeing business leaders at two separate events in Germany on Wednesday, in an attempt to build support for a post-Brexit trade deal.
Reuters has reported that Prime Minister Theresa May is to meet finance industry executives on Thursday to give a clearer idea of the implications for them of Britain’s exit from the EU, amid concerns over the future for Britain’s huge financial services sector once the UK leaves the EU and the single market.