Martin Selmayr, the EU’s most senior civil servant, offered David Lidington the opportunity to put Brexit on ice and instead chase a “new deal for Europe” at a private dinner last summer. The de facto deputy prime minister revealed that Mr Selmayr wanted the British Government to play a leading role, alongside France and Germany, in reforming the Brussels bloc. A turbulent G7 summit in Charlevoix, Canada, where Donald Trump clashed with EU leaders and Theresa May, helped hatch the plan, according to Mr Selmayr.
The German secretary general of the European Commission claimed the incident brought Mrs May and her European counterparts closer together.
He told BBC’s Panorama: “I think that led to many thinking, well if she comes back tomorrow and has thought again about Brexit, we wouldn’t mind.”
Speaking to the same programme, Mr Lidington claimed he told the eurocrat that the offer was unacceptable because Parliament had decided to honour the result of the 2016 EU referendum.
He said: “Martin sort of said ‘look, why don’t we have a deal whereby we just put all this on ice for five years… Let’s see how things go, let’s get the UK involved with France and Germany, let’s see how the dust settles and let’s talk about whether we can come to a new deal for Europe.’”
He added: “I said, ‘look we’ve had a referendum. Practically all of us in Parliament said we were going to accept the result of that referendum whether it went our way or not… and that matters in British democratic politics and I don’t think there can be going back on that.”
It has since emerged that Mr Selmayr will be leaving his all-powerful role at the top of the Commission because after the election of Ursula von der Leyen as the executive’s next president.
EU countries were keen to move Mr Selmayr to avoid Berlin having too much influence on the bloc in the future.
Meanwhile Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, has warned Britain faces “serious consequences” if the country’s next prime minister forces through a no-deal Brexit.
The French eurocrat said Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt would have to deal with huge economic and human costs if they decide to scrap their predecessor’s draft EU withdrawal agreement.
Both Tory leadership candidates have vowed to renegotiate Theresa May’s deal, but Mr Barnier warned he would not entertain their attempts as her settlement is the only offer on the table.
He said: “I think that the UK side, which is well informed and competent and knows the way we work on the EU side, knew from the very beginning that we’ve never been impressed by such a threat. It’s not useful to use it.”
It emerged last week that Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay had told Mr Barnier on five occasions that Mrs May’s deal is “dead”.
The EU’s chief negotiator insisted his counterparts have “never” suggested Britain will pursue a no-deal Brexit during their talks.
“No, no I never listened to such a sentence. Never,” he said.
The Frenchman added the withdrawal agreement “is the only way to leave the EU in an orderly way” as he dashes hopes of fresh negotiations.
“We have put in the document with the UK – not against the UK, with the UK – the legal answers to each and every point of uncertainty created by Brexit,” he said.
Last night, Mr Johnson vowed to deliver Brexit and unite the country as he addressed a 4,000-strong rally of Tory members.
He said: “We need to get on and get out of the EU on October 31.”
Voters want Parliament to “get on and deliver Brexit”, he added.
The Office of Budget Responsibility will today warn that Britain will be hit by recession if there is a no-deal Brexit.
The UK’s official economic forecaster will warn in its five-year forecast that the economy will shrink by three percent in 2020 as the UK officials enters into a recession.