France and Germany are pushing ahead with plans to offer Britain and other European countries “associated membership” of the EU, which could rebuild Britain’s ties with the bloc.
The two countries have presented a blueprint to restructure European Union membership into four levels, with the most closely linked states forming an “inner circle”.
Further levels would include current and future EU member states, as well as associate members and membership of the wider European Political Community (EPC), which would be open to the UK.
Lord Heseltine told The Independent that the UK needs to urgently consider the idea as “the vast majority of people in Britain see Brexit as a mistake”.
Associate membership would form the bloc’s first “outer tier” and could include members of the European single market that are not in the EU, such as Switzerland or “even the United Kingdom,” according to a paper submitted by France and Germany .
Associated members are not bound to an “ever closer union” and further integration, it said. Nor would they engage in deeper integration in policy areas such as justice, home affairs and citizenship.
But they would have to commit to the EU’s “common principles and values,” according to the plans.
Associated members would also contribute to the EU budget, but at a lower cost.
A second tier for outside members would not involve integration into EU law, but would strengthen the foundation of the European Political Community (EPC), of which Britain is a part. It would provide for free trade agreements in specific areas such as energy or defense and focus on cooperation on key issues such as climate and security.
News of the plan comes after Sir Keir Starmer held “very constructive and positive” talks with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris.
The Labor leader said the meeting began with an “exchange of gifts” and covered topics such as “the relationship between our two countries” and future “prosperity and security”.
Sir Keir highlighted plans to expand ties between France and Britain if Labor comes to power.
This was announced by a European diplomatic source The times The plan was drawn up with Labor in mind, although Sir Keir had ruled out rejoining the EU single market.
“It is carefully balanced politically to be a potential location for the UK without ever having to rejoin the EU or hold a referendum,” the source said.
Associate membership would not include a customs union, allowing Britain to maintain an independent trade policy.
Lord Heseltine told The Independent Britain “must urgently examine France and Germany’s plan”.
The former Tory deputy prime minister said: “The relentless pressure of public opinion is changing the dynamics of politics.”
“The dam is breaking and there are increasing tendencies towards integration in Europe. This is an opportunity offered by France and Germany that should be seized.
“The vast majority of people in Britain believe Brexit was a mistake, even those who still believe in it agree that it was never possible to implement it.
“The Tories have at least recognized that change is needed, first with Northern Ireland and the Windsor Agreement and then with Horizon, which enables collaboration in science and technology.
“While the Red Wall may be insurmountable this side of the general election, the pressure of events will force people from both main parties to embrace change and forge lasting links with Europe.
“This new plan between France and Germany needs to be examined urgently.”