It's the May way or the highway, PM's deputy warns

PUBLISHED: 16:25 29 August 2018 | UPDATED: 16:26 29 August 2018

De facto deputy prime minister David Lidington

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The only Brexit options are Theresa May's Chequers plan or no deal, de facto deputy prime minister David Lidington has told a French business conference.

The comments are likely to embolden Brexit hardliners in the Tory parliamentary ranks who are implacably opposed to Chequers and would prefer to crash out and trade on WTO terms.

Speaking to France's largest employer federation, the Mouvement des Entreprises de France, Lidington set out how he said the UK was trying to reach a pragmatic solution.

But the Cabinet Office minister said in his keynote speech that the European Commission's proposal remained unacceptable to the government.

He said: "With exactly seven months until the end of the Article 50 process and less than two months ahead of the October European Council, we face the choice between the pragmatic proposals we are discussing now with the European Commission or no deal.

"The alternative models do not meet the level of ambition or the outcome we all want to see delivered.

"So we need the EU to engage with us on our positive vision of the future relationship."

Lidington appealed for compromise from the EU side on the basis of co-operation over trade.

"The mercantilist system of rivalry and conflict that once characterised relationships in Europe is long in the past," he said.

"Trade liberalisation has been key to the peace, stability and prosperity that we have enjoyed in Western Europe in recent decades. It is an agenda we have worked together to promote.

"It is through this system that France continues to enjoy a big trade surplus in goods with the UK - in fact, it is currently France's biggest trade surplus with any EU country, in the region of six billion euros."

Stressing the historic ties between France and the UK, Lidington said the countries must also pull together "because the foundations of the world order that we forged in the aftermath of war are creaking".

He said: "I believe that this is a time when Europe, Europe inside the EU and Europe outside the EU, needs to pull together to embrace the spirit of unity and co-operation that has been the cause of our success for more than half a century.

"Even in Europe, dark political forces, long banished to the very fringes of society and the ashes of history, are re-emerging - feeding on resentment over inequality, stalling standards of living and rapid social change.

"My government has been clear throughout our discussions with our European partners on our future relationship: we want a deep and special partnership with the EU, we remain a proud European nation committed to European values, European security and European trade.

"We are indispensable partners in an unpredictable world. Now is the opportunity to cement that partnership and face the future together."

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