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Britain could quit the EU and 'still be friends', admits the former European Commission presidentJacques Delors' u-turn after trying to force European federalism on UKHe suggested Britain could be EU 'partner' instead of fully fledged member
10:42 GMT, 29 December 2012
U-turn: Jacques Delors' change of heart comes 22 years after he infuriated Eurosceptics by trying to force European federalism on the UK
Britain could negotiate a looser relationship with the EU under plans floated by a key architect of the European project.
In a remarkable change of heart, the arch-federalist Jacques Delors suggested the UK could be an EU 'partner' rather than a fully fledged member of an organisation committed to ever-closer union.
Mr Delors, who was president of the European Commission three times, said 'the British are solely interested in their own economic interests, and nothing else. We could offer them another kind of partnership.'
The U-turn comes 22 years after Mr Delors infuriated
Margaret Thatcher, then prime minister, and other Eurosceptics by trying
to force European federalism on the UK.
In November 1990 the French economist was the subject of a famous headline in The Sun that read: 'Up yours Delors'.
But in an interview in the German economic daily Handelsblatt yesterday, Mr Delors said: 'If the British do not follow the tendency towards more integration in the European Union, we can anyway stay friends, but in another way.'
Mr Delors, 87, suggested the UK might sign up for an arrangement 'like that of the European Economic Area' or a 'free trade agreement'.
If Britain left the EU, he said, it would still be a 'partner' because it is 'strategically and economically important'.
But, in a typically cutting aside, he added that 'other countries' were also important in the new economic order, including India and China.
On Thursday Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, said David Cameron's drive to repatriate powers from Brussels risks damaging the EU and could cause the collapse of the single market. He said countries would not be allowed to 'cherry pick' which EU policies they wanted to keep.
Tense handshake: Jacques Delors pictured here with Prime Minister Thatcher in 1987 after a battle over European federalism
But Mr Delors appears to think differently, and his intervention came as Europe minister David Lidington said the Government wanted to keep Britain in the EU, but also to strike a better deal, including the repatriation of powers from Brussels.
He said: 'We need a settlement that enables the British people to feel comfortable with membership of the EU.'
Mr Cameron will outline his thinking on Europe in a major speech next month. He is expected to promise a major renegotiation of Britain's relationship with the EU, probably followed by a referendum after the next election.
Mr Lidington said yesterday he gave 'short shrift to some of the charges of cherry picking' and insisted a new deal on Europe was possible.