Tony Blair helped broker Keir Starmer’s meeting with Emmanuel Macron yesterday as part of secret plans to ‘reverse Brexit’, it emerged last night.
A Whitehall source said the former prime minister had used his extensive EU contacts book to arrange the meeting on a day when the bloc released plans that could see Britain effectively rejoin the EU as an ‘associate member’.
The source said Sir Tony was ‘convinced that Brexit is now a vote-winner for Labour’ and was pushing his successor to open the door to reversing it.
‘Blair is trying to convince Starmer that the more he edges towards saying Brexit is a disaster, the better Labour will do,’ the source said.
‘He believes that reversing Brexit can be a vote-winner and he is pushing that message very hard.’
Sir Tony and Labour both declined to comment last night.
Face to face: Sir Keir and Mr Macron on September 19 with the gifted Arsenal shirt on the table
Parisienne walkabout: Labour leader Keir Starmer with French telecoms boss Arnaud de Puyfontaine yesterday
Tony Blair speaks onstage during the 2023 Concordia Annual Summit at Sheraton New York on September 19, 2023
The ‘associate membership’ proposal, championed by Paris and Berlin, would involve Britain observing EU law and accepting a form of free movement in return for access to the single market.
One EU source said the deal had been drawn up with Labour in mind and was ‘carefully balanced politically to be a potential place for Britain without the need to ever rejoin the EU or to hold a referendum’.
Sir Keir, who campaigned for a second referendum, has denied he wants to take Britain back into the EU or the single market, saying only that he wants a ‘closer’ relationship and believes he can get a ‘much better’ deal with Brussels.
But senior Tories warned he was preparing to take Britain back into the EU by the back door.
Former business secretary Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg said: ‘Keir Starmer has always been a starry-eyed Europhile, he’s the champion of the second referendum, and now he wants to do it by stealth.’
Health Secretary Steve Barclay said: ‘Starmer’s position is quite remarkable. He said he would respect the Brexit deal. Now he wants to reopen the Brexit deal.
‘Now he wants to give control of immigration policy to the EU – let them decide who comes into the country.
‘The EU themselves are saying he’d have to rejoin the single market. So the position he’s setting out, once again, is a flip-flop.
‘It’s clearly not consistent – he keeps changing his mind on what he wants.
‘We’re clear we’ve got a deal on Brexit and we want to move forward.
‘Starmer seems in the past to have called for a second referendum. Now he wants to go the full distance and reopen the deal.’
The idea of a ‘multi-speed’ Europe has been championed by Mr Macron as a way of rapidly enlarging the bloc. Under the proposals, Britain could join the third tier as an ‘associate member’.
The UK would not have to sign up to ‘ever closer union’ and would pay a reduced membership fee. But it would have to accept the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and accept free movement in return for access to the single market.
A document commissioned by France and Germany stated: ‘The basic requirement would be the commitment to comply with the EU’s common principles and values, including democracy and the rule of law.
‘The cost areas of participation would be the single market.’
Associate members would be able to raise issues at the European Commission and European Parliament – but would have no voting rights on EU laws.
Starmer arrives at the Gare du Nord in Paris with Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves (R) and Shadow Foreign Sec David Lammy (L) ahead of his meeting with Macron, on September 18
The document said the plans could offer a new form of membership ‘for even the UK’.
Labour declined to comment on whether Sir Keir had discussed the proposal with Mr Macron.
A Labour spokesman said Sir Keir would use a planned review in 2025 to improve the Brexit deal, but added: ‘Labour will seek a better deal for Britain. This does not involve any form of membership.’
After the discussions, Sir Keir said the talks with the French president had been ‘very political’.
‘It was my first opportunity to say how much I value the relationship between our two countries, particularly when it comes to prosperity and security and how, if we are privileged enough to be elected into power, intend to build on that relationship and make it even stronger than it is today.’
He added: ‘We had a very political discussion covering a lot of issues to do with global politics but also it was that opportunity to look at future prosperity, future security, some of the most pressing issues on my mind, on the president’s mind.’
Stella Creasy, chairman of the Labour Movement for Europe, which is pushing for renewed access to the single market, said Brexit ‘cannot be made to work’.
The prominent Labour MP acknowledged that becoming a full EU member again would take years, but added: ‘None of that means we can’t aim high for 2025 if we start now. That is what we are seeing today with Keir in Paris.’
Labour declined to comment on whether Sir Keir (pictured during a breakfast meeting on September 19) had discussed the proposal for a new form of membership with Mr Macron
Starmer (C), Reeves (L) and Lammy (R) speak during a breakfast meeting ahead of their meeting with Macron on September 19, in Paris, France
Downing Street said Rishi Sunak was not interested in pursuing associate membership of the EU.
A report by the think-tank UK in a Changing Europe yesterday warned that Sir Keir would find it ‘challenging’ to negotiate better terms with the EU.
Director Anand Menon said the UK was ‘not a priority for the EU, which remains relatively happy’ with the Brexit deal.
As such, a Labour government would have to ‘provide the EU with an incentive to restart negotiations over Brexit’.