Denmark’s prime minister has warned that the UK still has “quite a lot of work to be done” to figure out its Brexit negotiation position, after meeting with the British prime minister last night (10 October).
Lars Løkke Rasmussen became the first EU leader to met Theresa May since she announced at her Conservative party conference this month that the UK would trigger Article 50 – starting two years of negotiations – by March 2017.
But with just five months to go before Britain starts untangling 43-years worth of membership, EU partners have little idea what form of future partnership the UK wants.
In an interview with Bloomberg after the bilateral meeting with May, Rasmussen said “It appears as if there’s quite a lot of work that needs to be done in the UK before there’s a clear view of what the British want.”
That is significant because May is deliberately meeting potentially friendly EU allies on a short diplomatic trip – she now travels to the Netherlands, which shares a similar free-market outlook, and Spain, led by fellow centre-right leader Mariano Rajoy.
The Commission has repeated – on an almost daily basis – that there can be “no negotiations without notification” [of Article 50 under the Lisbon Treaty], so these talks must be presumed to be an informal ‘sounding out’ of potential scenarios.
Whilst the UK has sent out mixed messages from its trio of Brexit ministers – David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson – the lead EU negotiatior, Michel Barnier is keeping a scrupulous ‘radio silence’ on his tour of EU capitals.
Meanwhile, the head of the Eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem warned on Monday that a “hard Brexit”, leaving the UK with no special ties to the European Union, would be a choice made by London alone.
“It is their choice, that is my understanding of the speech of the Prime Minister (Theresa May),” Dijsselbloem, who is also the Dutch finance minister, said as he arrived for talks with his eurozone counterparts in Luxembourg.
“It is their choice to go for a hard Brexit and I would not be in favour of that at all,” Dijsselbloem said.
Dijsselbloem was referring to an uncompromising speech by May last week in which she said curbs on migration and not trade ties would be the priority in divorce talks with the EU.
But EU leaders have said Britain must accept free movement of people if it wants unfettered access to the European single market, the world’s biggest and richest economy.
“There are principles, and on these principles, no country still remaining in the European Union will budge,” said French Finance Minister Michel Sapin.
“That is the position of France, just as much as it is the position of Germany,” he added, referring to the EU’s two biggest and most influential powers.
The ministers spoke as worried British MPs in London called for a parliamentary vote on Britain’s future ties with the EU and warned hard Brexit was a “grave danger”.
Concern that Britain is heading for this “hard Brexit” dragged the pound down to 31-year lows against the dollar last week and prompted business leaders to call on May to remain open to compromise with Brussels.
The pound also sunk on comments by French President Francois Hollande on the need for a tough EU stance, but France’s EU commissioner on Monday called for calm.
Brexit “must not be a punishment for Britain or its citizens, it must not be a punishment for Europeans,” said Moscovici, the EU’s Economic Affairs Commissioner.
“I don’t know what hard Brexit, soft Brexit means. We must have a clean, a correct negotiation in the interest of both parts.”