Monday

18th Mar 2019

'Serene' EU warns UK against Brexit 'illusions'

  • "We have a clear line, we are united and we are ready," says EU main negotiator Michel Barnier. (Photo: Council of the EU)

EU ministers have put the final touch to the bloc's Brexit negotiating guidelines before an EU leaders summit on Saturday (30 April), while Germany has warned the UK not to have "illusions" about the upcoming talks' outcome.

"Countries with a third country status, and that’s what Great Britain will be, cannot and will not have the same or even more rights as a member of the European Union," chancellor Angela Merkel told German MPs on Thursday.

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"You may think that all this is self-evident," she said. "But I have to put this so clearly because I get the impression that some in Great Britain still have illusions about this, and that is a waste of time.”

Merkel called on the UK government to quickly "find constructive solutions", so that exit negotiations can be topped with talks on the future relationship between the EU and the UK.



She was speaking ahead of a summit in Brussels on Saturday, where the leaders of the 27 remaining countries will adopt guidelines for the talks prepared by member states' diplomats and EU officials.

The document was endorsed on Thursday by the 27 Europe ministers in Luxembourg.

The Maltese deputy prime minister, who was chaired the meeting, said it was an "unprecedented signal of trust, unity and consensus of the 27".

"This is a very good start for a very complex negotiation ahead of us," he said.

He said that all governments agreed on the "core principles" of the EU's position: "the integrity of single market, the balance of rights and obligation, no sectorial negotiation, a single package and single channel of communication" - a reference to the EU lead negotiator Michel Barnier.

Conclusion delayed

The text also details the three priorities already expressed by EU leaders: the defense of EU citizens' rights in the UK and of Britons in the EU, the UK's "bill" to pay, and the necessity to avoid a "hard border" between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

"The guidelines are a balanced position, which takes into account different issues," Portugal's Europe minister Margarida Marques told EUobserver.

Barnier briefed ministers about his meeting, together with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, with UK prime minister Theresa May on Wednesday evening in London.

 Both the UK government and the European Commission said that the working dinner was "constructive".

While May said again that she wanted a "deep and special partnership" with the EU after Brexit, Juncker and Barnier told her than it was "essential to come to a swift agreement on an orderly withdrawal", according to the commission's spokesman.

They also noted than "it doesn't seem realistic that an agreement can be concluded before September-October 2018" as previously expected.

After May called a snap election for 8 June, talks will start later than expected.

The guidelines were first sent to EU leaders by European Council president Donald Tusk on 30 March, two days after May sent a letter to notify UK's exit.

'Consensual' talks

No major change were introduced in several meetings of the leaders' EU advisers and EU ambassadors.

"The starting point was very good and consensual," Portugal's Marques said about the first draft. "The debates were only to clarify things that were unclear".

She said that despite May's notification and meeting with Juncker and Barnier, the EU "doesn't completely know what the UK wants".

"May's letter raised questions but there are clarifications to be made," she said, especially on citizens' rights and the financial aspect of Brexit.

Marques insisted that the EU was "serene" in approaching negotiations, because it has to "get used" to Brexit and to "minimise the loss".

"We have a clear line, we are united and we are ready," Barnier said in Luxembourg.

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