French President Emmanuel Macron has argued it is “time for a European renaissance”, suggesting Britain could “find its true place” in a reformed EU.
Calling on EU states to avoid the “trap” of Brexit, Mr Macron made his plea in an open letter published by 28 European newspapers, including the Guardian, Germany’s Die Welt and El Pais in Spain.
The French president’s “urgent” message comes 80 days before European Parliament elections, which could see populist and eurosceptic parties secure a significant number of seats.
Ahead of the “decisive” elections, Mr Macron warned that “never has Europe been in such danger” as Brexit symbolises “the crisis of a Europe that has failed to respond to its peoples’ need for protection from the major shocks of the modern world.”
Raising the prospect of the UK remaining in a two or three-speed EU, Mr Macron wrote: “There will be disagreement, but is it better to have a static Europe or a Europe that advances, sometimes at different speeds, and that is open to all?”
“In this Europe, the people will really take back control of their future. In this Europe, the UK, I am sure, will find its true place.”
The 41-year-old leader – who fought off eurosceptic Marine Le Pen for the French presidency but has since faced significant protests from the Gilets Jaune movement – described Brexit as symbolising “the European trap”.
He added: “The trap lies not in being part of the European Union; the trap is in the lie and the irresponsibility that can destroy it.
“Who told the British people the truth about their post-Brexit future? Who spoke to them about losing access to the EU market?
“Who mentioned the risks to peace in Ireland of restoring the border? Retreating into nationalism offers nothing; it is rejection without an alternative.
“And this is the trap that threatens the whole of Europe: the anger mongers, backed by fake news, promise anything and everything.”
Setting out his wish for an overhaul of the EU, Mr Macron argued it is “time for a European renaissance”.
His proposals include an agency to protect the election processes of member states against cyber attacks and manipulation; a “rethink” of the EU’s borderless Schengen area; a European security council, including the UK to take collective defence decisions; and an EU minimum wage.
Mr Macron’s intervention comes as Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox make their latest visit to Brussels today in a continuing bid to win changes to Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal.
However, ahead of the pair’s trip, Conservative Brexiteers sent a warning they will be closely scrutinising the results of their efforts.
The European Research Group (ERG) of Tory eurosceptics have formed a “council” of eight lawyers from among their number to examine any concessions ministers can win from Brussels, before deciding whether they can lend their support for Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement.
The prime minister is likely to need to convince the ERG to drop their opposition to her deal if she is to finally secure House of Commons backing for her agreement, with a second vote expected to be held on 12 March.
In January, MPs overwhelmingly rejected her deal.
ERG member Michael Tomlinson MP said: “There are no documents for us to examine at this stage, but we look forward to seeing in due course what the attorney has agreed, so that we may assess whether it meets the requirements of the Brady amendment, which commanded a majority in the House of Commons and calls for significant, legally-binding changes to the withdrawal agreement.”
Mr Cox hit out at recent reports he has abandoned attempts to secure a hard time-limit or unilateral exit mechanism to the Brexit backstop, which is at the centre of Brexiteers’ opposition to the prime minister’s deal.
The attorney general attacked “misunderstood fag ends dressed up as facts”, adding on Twitter: “Some of it is accurate, much more of it isn’t and what is not is far more significant than what is.
“Complex and detailed negotiations cannot be conducted in public.”
Confusingly, Mr Cox added to his tweet: “Get Outlook for iOS.”