EU tells UK "divorce first" before "very messy" Brexit trade
Since British Prime Minister Theresa May set out her Brexit goals last week, interest in Britain has focused on the future trade deals she may one day strike with the US and other powers, as well as with the EU, reports Reuters.
"They're talking about their future relationships," said one EU official to Reuters, preparing for talks with London. "But first we need to get divorced. This is not going to be easy. Frankly, it's going to be very, very messy."
In diplomatic language, European Commission Spokesperson Margaritis Schinas told a press conference this week: "First, one needs to agree on the terms for an orderly separation and then, on the basis of this, build a future new, good relationship."
As with other divorces, the bitterest battle may be over money, added Reuters. And there is no certainty that any settlement can be agreed at all.
"Britain’s payments to the EU budget and the issue of the EU quickly starting talks on an FTA [free trade agreement] with Britain will be linked," said a second senior EU official to Reuters.
"There cannot be discussions of a future relationship without first regulating the issue of an orderly separation."
EU negotiators reckon Britain has a weak hand to play; May must accept a two-year guillotine on talks that she hopes will end with a deal to keep "maximum" British access to EU markets while pulling Britain out of the single market and its obligations.
If May wants to draft an FTA in only two years as she says -- a goal that prompts head-shaking in Brussels -- continentals think they can hold her hostage with the threat of trade tariffs from 2019 unless she settles British debts.
Some diplomats have voiced concern that London may be tempted to flounce out without paying EU bills worth tens of billions, according to Reuters.