From left to right: Pieter De Crem, Kris Peeters, Michel Barnier and Paul Buysse
Senior politicians within the Belgian government have published an extraordinary report calling for Brussels to pursue the continuation of free trade with the UK or face dire consequences.
They concluded that an astonishing one in four jobs in the country could be under threat if eurocrats push ahead with plans to force a so-called ‘hard Brexit’ on Britain.
The bombshell conclusions were reached by members of a ‘High Level Group on Brexit’, which was set up by Belgian ministers to gauge what the impact of Britain’s decision to leave the bloc will be.
Their conclusions will make grim reading for some European leaders and politicians who are determined to make sure that the UK does not enjoy the same access to the single market as full EU members.
Belgium has extra clout because it is home to the EU
The report's conclusions will be a boost for Theresa May's negotiating team
This week the group met to discuss their findings with the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, who has recently softened his rhetoric towards Westminster and advocated a common sense trading solution.
The French politician posted an image on his Twitter page showing himself posing alongside Belgian trade secretary Pieter De Crem, the country’s deputy prime minister Kris Peeters and influential businessman Paul Buysse.
Together the foursome have the influence to put significant pressure on Brussels to seal a trade deal with Britain, whilst Belgium’s clout is magnified enormously by its status as the home of the EU.
The working group is chaired by Mr Buysse, an influential baron who ran Dunlop tyres and Vickers and who holds a number of highly prominent positions within Belgian industry bodies.
Their report, according to Belgian media, points out that exports of classic Belgian products like French fries, vegetables, chocolate and beer would suffer badly if trade barriers were imposed.
Britain is also the country’s main trading partner in a number of areas including medicine and textiles, it adds, warning ministers across the EU that it is “vital to negotiate a good Brexit”.
Amongst the members of the working group is Pieter Timmermans, the CEO of the Federation of Belgian Enterprises industry body, which is calling for a “clean Brexit” followed by a free trade deal.
Theresa May's 12 point Brexit plan
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Continued cooperation with the EU to tackle terrorism and international crime.
Mr Timmermans added that at the same time the EU needs to press ahead with reforms to the single market, including improving trade in services and further integration European economies.
The working group was commissioned by Mr Peeters five months ago and includes representatives from Belgium’s five regional parliaments as well as the central government in Brussels.
Its conclusions were released on the same day eurocrats announced they are to speed up the conclusion of a trade deal with Mexico after coming under pressure from the early success of Theresa May’s ‘global Britain’ vision.