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back to index backEUROtalk October,  2016


UK Heading for Hard Brexit, Say European Diplomats

As chief negotiator starts work, dominant view on continent is that Britain will leave EU single market and customs union.

European diplomats are increasingly convinced the UK will sever economic ties with the continent when it leaves the European Union, as hopes of a special partnership languish.

As the European commission’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, prepares to start work on Saturday, the dominant mood among senior diplomats is that the UK is on the path to hard Brexit”, namely giving up membership of the EU single market, as well as the customs union that allows free circulation of goods.

Under this clean-break scenario, London-based banks would lose the passports that allow them to operate across the continent, while Britain’s trade would be governed by a new agreement yet to be defined.

Barnier, a veteran French centre-right politician, is expected to make a low-key start to his high-profile role, with no public statements scheduled on a weekend that also marks the passing of 100 days since the 23 June referendum.

He has already moved into an office in the European commission headquarters in Brussels, just a few doors down from the president, Jean-Claude Juncker. Barnier plans to visit EU capitals to take soundings on Brexit, while his team draft positions on trade, foreign policy and the budget – the issue expected to be the most bitterly contested.

Meanwhile, British officials have warned their counterparts that the EU risks a messy break-up with the UK unless informal talks take place before official negotiations. But British overtures have been rebuffed, as EU27 diplomats stick to the line of no negotiations without notification”.

The terms hard” and soft Brexit” have no formal meaning, but have filled the vacuum that has emerged as EU leaders wait for the UK to spell out what future relationship it wants with the bloc.

One senior European diplomat told the Guardian that a hard Brexit was inevitable because it was hardwired into the referendum”.

The source said the Brexit vote showed that the UK wanted to reduce EU immigration, stop paying into the EU budget and strike trade deals with countries, thereby abandoning the EU’s customs union. If you don’t want to pay into the EU budget and make free-trade agreements with third countries, then you are completely out,” they said.

Avoiding hard Brexit would mean you would have to give up some central planks of the referendum and there is no way that will happen”, the source said.

Those expectations appeared to be vindicated when Liam Fox, the trade secretary, dropped another heavy hint that he favoured a clean break with the EU. In a speech on Thursday he suggested he was leaning towards trading on World Trade Organisation terms, rather than being part of the EU single market. Brexit gave the UK a golden opportunity” to forge a new role in the world, he said.

The prime minister, Theresa May, has so far refused to back Fox’s call to leave the EU customs union, sowing confusion in Europe about what the British government wants.

To read entire article, please click here.

Source: The Guardian - GAI





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