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Brexit: British diplomats in Brussels secretly trying to keep UK in EU, claims Tory MP Peter Lilley

British diplomats are secretly trying to negotiate the UK back into the European Union, a former Tory Cabinet minister has claimed.

Officials tasked with negotiating the UK out of the EU may actually be attempting to keep Britain part of the 28-member bloc, former trade secretary Peter Lilley said.

Commenting in the wake of Sir Ivan Rogers resignation as Britain’s ambassador to the EU, Mr Lilley insisted “many diplomats, Eurocrats, are actually in the business of trying to negotiate a way back in, rather than committing to getting us out”.

Accusing Sir Ivan of “sour grapes”, the backbencher told BBC Radio Four's World at One: “Why did he put out this long, 1,400-word letter, half of which reads like a sort of CV - this is my job, I'm a very clever person, anyone who is looking for someone to employ, I'm available.

"And the other half looks like some degree of sour grapes, and possibly some genuine degree of misunderstanding between him and ministers, or concern about what ministers are doing.

"It would be very unusual to have somebody leading the team who was not really committed to leaving.

“And one has a feeling that many diplomats, Eurocrats, are actually in the business of trying to negotiate a way back in, rather than committing to getting us out.

“And if Sir Ivan Rogers was in the former group it is good he has gone."

Mr Lilley added that the outgoing ambassador's replacement should be willing to "walk away" from negotiations if Britain fails to secure the right deal.

The former shadow chancellor said: "Quite possibly they'll be no trade agreement at all. And we should be prepared to walk away.

“And you have got to have someone tough enough to walk away.

“I am not sure that many people in the Foreign Office have got the attitude that they are prepared to walk away from negotiations without a deal.

“And unless we have someone there who has got that tough approach we won't get the best possible deal, and we won't get the quickest possible deal, which is what Britain needs."

The surprise move by Sir Ivan comes after he provoked controversy with a private warning to the Government that a post-Brexit trade deal could take a decade to finalise.

Downing Street moved to play down the resignation, saying Sir Ivan was leaving his post "a few months early", but opposition figures said the turn of events was "alarming".

A Government spokesman said: "Sir Ivan Rogers has resigned a few months early as UK Permanent Representative to the European Union.

"Sir Ivan has taken this decision now to enable a successor to be appointed before the UK invokes Article 50 by the end of March. We are grateful for his work and commitment over the last three years."

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