LONDON (AP) — The British government denied Tuesday that its strategy for exiting the European Union had been leaked through a set of handwritten notes suggesting that the U.K.'s aim is to "have cake and eat it."
Despite its lofty ambition, the same document appears to concede that the U.K. will have to quit the EU's single market of 500 million people once it leaves the 28-nation bloc.
The British government has consistently refused to disclose details of what kind of deal it will seek with the EU after Brexit, saying that would weaken its negotiating hand.
EU leaders have filled the vacuum by heaping pressure on Britain, warning that the U.K. it will have to leave the tariff-free single market if it seeks to limit immigration from EU countries, since the free movement of citizens is a fundamental principle of the bloc.
The sheet of paper captured by a news photographer was being carried by an aide to senior Conservative lawmaker Mark Field outside the Department for Exiting the EU on London's Downing Street. The paper says: "What's the model? Have cake and eat it."
The densely written notes also list anticipated problems with the upcoming negotiating process, noting "we think it's unlikely we'll be offered Single Market."
Prime Minister Theresa May plans to start the formal divorce process with the EU by the end of March, triggering two years of discussions before Britain's EU exit. EU leaders say there can be no substantive discussions on Britain's leaving before then.
European Council President Donald Tusk struck an exasperated note Tuesday in a reply to British lawmakers, whom he said had accused EU officials of "attempting to prevent negotiations, thereby creating 'anxiety and uncertainty for the U.K. and EU citizens living in one another's territories.'"
"It is a very interesting argument, the only problem being that it has nothing to do with reality," Tusk said in a letter. He said EU officials were ready to start exit talks as soon as Britain triggered Article 50 of the bloc's Lisbon Treaty.
"The decision about triggering Article 50 belongs only to the U.K.," Tusk said.
Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem warned Tuesday that Brexit is "going to be a tough ride" for Britain's economy, as investors rethink their investments amid the uncertainty. Dijsselbloem, who also heads the group of 19 countries who use the common euro currency, said London could not be allowed to remain the EU's financial capital after Britain leaves.
"We cannot allow the financial service center for Europe and the eurozone to be outside Europe and the eurozone, and to go its own way in terms of rules and regulations," he told European lawmakers in Brussels.
The leaked British notes include the phrases "Canada-plus" — likely a reference to a free-trade deal with the EU based on Canada's recently concluded arrangement — and "French likely to be most difficult."
Officials said the notes did not belong to a government official and do not reflect the government's position.
"I was interested and amused to see it because it doesn't reflect any of the conversations that I've been part of in Downing Street," Business Secretary Greg Clark said.
But opposition politicians said the photo revealed the scale of the chaos in government ranks. Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said it "shows the government doesn't have a plan or even a clue."
Associated Press Writer Raf Casert in Brussels contributed to this report.