A delegation of pro-Brexit politicians and campaigners will this week warn the EU’s chief negotiator that there is “huge support” for reverting to WTO rules instead of accepting a bad deal, in what they say will be a display of Churchillian “iron will.”
Steven Woolfe, an MEP, will meet with Michel Barnier in Brussels along with former CBI head Lord Digby Jones, Labour Leave chairman John Mills, and former British Chamber of Commerce chief John Longworth.
The group hopes to foster a more positive tone in the negotiations and to show Mr Barnier that large swathes of the UK are determined to quit the bloc – despite bids from Tony Blair and Lord Adonis to reverse the referendum result.
Mr Woolfe said he set up the meeting as he was irritated that the EU’s chief negotiator initially appeared to be exclusively speaking with opponents of Brexit.
Mr Barnier’s spokesman has said that his door is “always open” to those who wish to discuss Brexit with him.
“I think the EU has recognised there has been a bit of an echo chamber – it wasn’t just Blair, Adonis and [Kenneth] Clarke, but they also saw the leader of Scotland, the leader of Wales and on two occasions Jeremy Corbyn,” Mr Woolfe told the Telegraph.
“All of those views give the impression that Brexit can be damaged, delayed or – in the words of Blair and Adonis – denied. We want to show a bit of strength, that there is an iron will behind the negotiations to give support to our politicians and our civil servants.”
He added: “As Winston Churchill said, ‘If we open a quarrel between past and present we shall find that we have lost the future.’ Those prophetic words of more than half a century ago are as true today as they were then.”
“With our country embarking on its greatest political transformation since the Second World War we need some of that Churchillian spirit. We need hope, vision and leadership.”
Though the meeting is largely aimed at healing divides between Britain and Europe that opened during the Brexit divorce talks, the group will warn Mr Barnier of “huge support” among voters for rejecting a bad deal and reverting to WTO rules.
They also hope to explain to Mr Barnier the underlying mood in Britain which led to the referendum result, such as concerns over sovereignty and immigration.
“If you try to persuade British people you can deny Brexit, then be of no doubt that there is huge support for simply moving toward WTO rules, and that we will stay there until we can find a satisfactory deal with our European cousins,” Mr Woolfe added.
“They don’t yet have an impression of that iron will…but 2018 will mark the launch of the Leaver fightback.”
Mr Barnier will meet with the group on Wednesday, and is also due to meet with Nigel Farage on Monday.
The former Ukip leader has issued an appeal to his followers on Twitter for questions he can put to the chief negotiator at their meeting.
Meanwhile, Mr Longworth said he hoped his meeting with Mr Barnier would deter Remainers and the EU from any “backsliding.”
“It must be made clear at the highest levels that no trade deal is better than a bad trade deal for the UK, and that the EU has an obligation to prepare for global trade on WTO terms should no deal be reached,” he said.
“We need to focus all our energy on reaching a deal that is beneficial for both the UK and Europe. If that is not possible, the UK can safely fall back on WTO terms and we need to make that option clear,” added fellow campaigner Mr Mills.
Though Britain has already agreed to the terms of withdrawal from the EU, making a ‘no deal’ scenario highly unlikely, a senior government source said it was still prepared to walk away from the trade deal, if necessary.
“They [the EU] need to know it’s still on the table and that we are still serious about doing it,” the source said.