Britain must discuss the terms of its divorce from the EU before talks on any future trade agreement can start, French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve warned on Monday (6 February).
Cazeneuve added that any eventual deal could not give Britain better terms than it would have if it stayed inside the 28-nation European Union.
He is the latest EU leader to insist that London must strike the divorce deal – including an exit bill that the EU estimates at €60 billion – before talks can move on to the future relationship.
Britain believes the bill, which covers budgetary obligations and pension contributions for EU employees, should be closer to €20bn, European sources said.
“We must first discuss the conditions under which the exit will take place, and to do it within the time allowed for negotiation, without wasting time,” Cazeneuve said after talks with European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has promised to trigger Article 50 of the EU’s governing treaties by the end of March, after which negotiators will have two years to thrash out a deal before Brexit is completed.
Cazeneuve said this should happen “with the aim of ensuring that the interests of the EU are defended and that a state leaving the EU cannot benefit from a better regime than that between member states”.
Juncker, the former Luxembourg prime minister who heads the executive arm of the EU, gave a similar warning to Britain.
“We agreed on a central point: that the deal that will one day be offered to the United Kingdom should not be as advantageous,” he said.
May has said that she wants Britain to keep as much access to the EU’s single market as possible while limiting immigration from EU countries but Brussels says she cannot pick and choose what she wants.
In her Brexit whitepaper published last Thursday (2 February), May said the UK did “not approach these negotiations expecting failure, but anticipating success”.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble told der Tagesspiegel said he did “not want to punish the British for their decision to leave the EU”; a position that may bring some comfort to the UK’s negotiators.