Nigel Farage has welcomed the prospect of a minister for a no-deal Brexit (see 11.23am), while accusing the government of ignoring the issue of immigration in negotiations with the European Union.
Speaking to reporters in Brussels, following a 30-minute meeting with the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, Farage said:
It is a very good thing that there is going to be a minister for no-deal. It does at least show that Theresa May is prepared to walk away. And I think that is because she has been getting these under-the-radar voices for business saying we can’t spend years trying to get somewhere if it is frankly going to be achievable.
The Ukip MEP’s contention that business is prepared to accept no-deal is starkly at odds with Britain’s biggest business group, the Confederation for British Industry, which has been urging the government to agree transition arrangements and warned that no-deal would cost jobs. But there are pro-Brexit business voices outside the CBI.
The Ukip MEP had requested the meeting, after a trio of remain-supporting ex-ministers, Lord Adonis, Nick Clegg and Ken Clarke, met Barnier last October.
Farage said the meeting was “very civil”. Coffee was offered, but there was no exchange of gifts. (Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn gave Barnier an Arsenal shirt, while the Brexit secretary David Davis presented him with a book about a mountaineering expedition that went badly wrong.)
To no one’s surprise, there wasn’t a meeting of minds between the European commissioner and lifelong Eurosceptic. Farage said Barnier doesn’t understand why people voted for Brexit.
I really don’t think he gets it. And when I suggested to him that it might be something to do with open door immigration within the European Union, he almost looked at me with incredulity.
He also accused the government of not prioritising immigration in the negotiations, underlining his attempt to position himself as the voice of leave voters and force the debate away from the economy.
[Theresa May] says she is the Brexit prime minister. She fought the general election on that basis and we find she is the Brexit prime minister, apart from one issue, called immigration, which she hasn’t event talked about.
The commission has so far declined to comment, beyond noting: “The two men discussed the state of play of article 50 negotiations.”
But we don’t know if Jeremy Hunt or Justine Greening will still be in post this afternoon. Both UQs may well be answered by junior ministers …
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Turning to Brexit for a moment, the former Ukip leader Nigel Farage has been tweeting about his meeting with Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator.