Britain can't pick and choose Brexit deal, MEPs say
The European Parliament will not accept an EU-UK deal that hurts the free flow of people within the EU single market, parliamentary leaders clearly stated after meeting with British Brexit minister David Davis on Tuesday (23 November).
"It is impossible to find a solution that would destroy the so-called four freedoms," said Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the liberal group and the parliament's coordinator on Brexit.
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"The freedom of movement of goods, services, capital and of people are the basic element of the European Union. We will certainly never accept whatever development where these four freedoms are put at risk," he told journalists.
Meanwhile, another MEP questioned whether the Brits had grasped this message.
"Today in my talks with Mr Davis I didn’t hear anything new, rather the contrary," said Manfred Weber, leader of the parliament’s largest political group, centre-right EPP.
He said that instead of presenting an exit strategy, the British government insisted on what it wanted to keep from the EU, particularly access to the single market and home affairs and justice cooperation.
"They still don't know what Brexit means," Weber said. "That means leaving the European Union, that means cutting off relations - not cherry-picking, not special relationships."
David Davis, for his part, said that Tuesday's meetings had been "a good start".
Asked if the British government aimed to stay in the single market after leaving the EU, he said: "What we are after is an outcome which will be in the interest of the European Union and in the interest of Britain and will meet the requirements of the referendum."
It was the first time that Davis met with the parliament’s leaders since Britain voted to leave the EU in June.
They are bound to meet more regularly in the future.
Verhofstadt said Britain must finalise its divorce from the European Union before the next elections to the European Parliament in 2019, even if that left very little time.
The UK government plans to launch the exit talks before the end of March 2017, although the timing could be delayed by a legal challenge in the UK, requiring Britain’s parliament to be consulted, which the government has appealed.
The European Parliament, which is not directly involved in the negotiations but must consent to the resulting Brexit agreement, would submit its requests on the EU negotiating mandate in late March or early April, Verhofstadt said.
If EU leaders issue a final mandate by late April or May, the European Commission would have its position ready by the end of 2017.
The current legislative mandate runs out in May 2019.
"That only leaves a 14-15 months window," Verhofstadt said, noting that the parliament would need a couple months after the negotiations are concluded to provide its consent.
"It will be hectic," he added.