LONDON — Prime Minister Theresa May’s Article 50 letter to the EU, which was seen as an attempt to “blackmail” EU leaders over security co-operation, had to be “toned down” before being sent, a former senior UK diplomat has claimed.
“People complained about what the prime minister’s letter said on security,” Sir Stephen Wall, the UK’s former permanent representative to the EU, told Business Insider on Wednesday.
“The draft was much tougher and had to be toned down.”
May was last month accused of trying to blackmail the European Union by suggesting in her Article 50 letter that failure to strike a Brexit deal with Britain will make the continent less safe as a result.
In a letter to European Commission President Donald Tusk, May said: “If, however, we leave the European Union without an agreement, the default position is that we would have to trade on World Trade Organisation terms.
“In security terms, a failure to reach agreement would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened.”
The prime minister’s choice of language sparked outrage among opponents and caught the attention of prominent EU politicians. Gianni Pittella, the leader of the European Parliament’s Socialist bloc, described the remark as “outrageous” and added that it had “not been a good start” for May ahead of exit negotiations getting underway.
Wall, who was speaking at an Institute for Government event on the Brexit negotiation process, told BI that the original wording of the letter was more explicit in its threat to the EU.
“The original letter was not meant to merely be a description of events but major leverage for the government,” he said.
When we asked Sir Stephen to expand on this claim, the former chief diplomat told us that the original wording of May’s thinly-veiled threat was “much tougher” and intended to give the UK “major leverage” in exit talks.
However, Sir Stephen claims the drafters of the letter intervened to water down what the prime minister had written about security, in order to maintain good will between Westminster and the 28-nation bloc’s most important figures.
Brexit Secretary David Davis rejected accusations of blackmail when May’s letter was published at the end of the last month.
He told the BBC’s Today programme: “We want a deal. That’s the point. We want a deal.
“And [May] was making the point that it is bad for both of us if we don’t have a deal. That, I think, is a perfectly reasonable point to make and not in any sense a threat.”
It is now evident that figures in government were one stage concerned about the tone of the letter to the point where a key section of the document was significantly amended.
Wall was the UK’s permanent representative to the EU between 1995 and 2000 and continued to work closely with government. In 2015 he was charged with writing the official history of Britain’s involvement with the EU for the Cabinet Office.
A Downing Street spokesperson declined to comment on Wall’s claims.
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