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2nd Mar 2024

Be fair in Brexit talks, EU tells UK

  • "We want to talk about fairness and commitment," European Council president Donald Tusk (r) said. (Photo: Consilium)

Open but firm. Two days after the UK government sent the letter to start the process of its EU exit, the remaining 27 states are setting out their negotiating position.

"The talks which are about to start will be difficult, complex and sometimes even confrontational. There is no way around it," European Council president Donald Tusk said on Friday (31 March).

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  • Maltese PM Joseh Muscat insists on the need for a "sincere spirit of cooperation" in the upcoming talks. (Photo: Consilium)

He added that "the EU-27 does not and will not pursue a punitive approach" because "Brexit in itself is already punitive enough".

"There is no such thing as a penalty for leaving the EU," he told journalists in Valletta, Malta, referring to the €60 billion or more in liabilities, which the Union will ask the UK to pay before leaving.

He said that this was "only fair towards all those people, communities, scientists, farmers and so on, to whom we, all the 28, promised and owe this money."

But Tusk, who has sent the draft negotiating guidelines to member states, warned that the British government should respect some principles if it wants the talks to go well.

"We want to talk about fairness and commitment," he said.

"If [the UK] wants to achieve a constructive agreement, they should discuss only with the 27 as the EU," he said.

"This only way to achieve anything," he said, warning London against the temptation to negotiate directly with other capitals to obtain concessions.

Speaking alongside Tusk, Maltese prime minister Joseph Muscat, whose country currently holds the Council presidency, added that there was "just one point of contact" between the UK and the EU in the upcoming talks.

"That negotiation is led exclusively from the European side by [European Commission negotiator] Michel Barnier," he said, adding that this was a "clear demarcation line".

'No bargaining chip'

Tusk also repeated the EU's position that future relations between the UK and the bloc will be discussed only when a divorce agreement can be reached.

"Starting parallel talks on all issues at the same time, as suggested by some in the UK, will not happen," he said, adding that the EU-27 will assess "probably [in] the autumn if sufficient progress has been achieved".

Tusk also warned British prime minister Theresa May, who he will meet next month, against trying to use security cooperation as a tool to obtain a better economic deal with the EU.

In her notification letter on Wednesday, May wrote that "a failure to reach agreement would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened".

"No one is interested in using security cooperation as a bargaining chip," Tusk said, noting that "especially" after last week's attack in Westminster, "it must be clear that terrorism and security is our common problem".

But both also tried to defuse the tension over the issue.

"It must be misunderstanding," Tusk argued, adding that the UK are "wise and decent partners".

Muscat said that the EU had "reassurances from the British government" and insisted on the need for a "sincere spirit of cooperation".

Pledge to be 'constructive'

In the draft guidelines sent to member states, the EU says that its "overall objective in these negotiations will be to preserve its interests, those of its member states, its citizens and its businesses".

The EU also pledges to be "constructive" and to "strive to find an agreement", but noted that "it will prepare itself to be able to handle the situation also if the negotiations were to fail".

The draft was being discussed by EU ambassadors in Brussels on Friday. It will be amended by ambassadors and EU leaders' sherpas in the coming weeks, so that EU leaders can approve them at a special summit on 29 April.

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