France and Germany are planning a new treaty of friendship and an array of other joint schemes that could push Britain to the sidelines in Europe, according to sources close to President Sarkozy.

The plan to put Paris and Berlin back at the heart of the stalled European Union covers defence, immigration, a new industrial policy and a drive to loosen what the pair see as Britain’s grip on the European Commission.

The revamped Franco-German axis may include the permanent assignment of ministers in each other’s Cabinets.

The initiative would exploit Britain’s situation, with Gordon Brown weakened and distracted by next year’s general election and the decision by the Conservatives to quit Europe’s main centre-right grouping, the European People’s Party.

Paris and Berlin, reverting to the old idea of a two-speed Europe, aim to push ahead with a separate headquarters for European defence and the promotion of industrial champions. Britain wants none of that.

The scheme, already far advanced, will follow this week’s repeat referendum in the Irish Republic on the Lisbon treaty, whether the vote is “yes” or “no”.

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