Germans were ready to offer Theresa May a deal on freedom of movement, says Nick Clegg
Angela Merkel was ready to offer Theresa May a post-referendum deal on freedom of movement in exchange for a UK commitment to the single market, said Nick Clegg at the Mile End Institute, Queen Mary University of London.
Mr Clegg said: "I’d always assumed that what she’d do [after the referendum result] is jump on a plane in the dead of night and - without telling the press - go to Berlin, have a nice sauerkraut dinner with Angel Merkel and say to her ‘listen this is a nightmare for us. I don’t want this, you don’t want this. Let’s try to quickly reach an accommodation’.”
Mr Clegg added: “Theresa May would then…go back to the British people and [tell them] that she’s been able to introduce a more material change to freedom of movement than her predecessor secured. In return May would then say to Merkel that she would do everything she could to pursue an EEA style continued membership of the single market to minimise the economic disruption. It was confirmed to me in private that this is exactly what the Germans expected as well. They were ready to make precisely that concession.”
Mr Clegg was speaking to Philip Cowley, Professor of Politics at QMUL and Director of the Mile End Institute. Asked why he continues to argue so vehemently against Brexit when it looks like a foregone conclusion, Mr Clegg said he is “genetically condemned to care about Europe”.
“My mum is Dutch, my dad’s half Russian, my wife is Spanish – so I care about it massively. I just do not want my kids to grow up in an angry, divided, introverted, hard Brexit Britain. As long as I’m in politics I will carry on arguing against it,” said Mr Clegg.
He said that Article 50 is reversible, despite what he described as the myopic position of the UK press.
“It’s just a stopwatch, that’s all it is. It’s not a prison. It’s not an irreversible state of affairs, it’s a stopwatch that can be suspended. If a country of our size were to say by way of a referendum or a vote in parliament that actually we don’t want to go through with the divorce, I find it inconceivable that the EU would say ‘well sod you, we want to cast you into outer darkness on WTO terms’. With political will a lot of legalistic impediments could be overcome,” said Mr Clegg.