EU Economics

European leaders prepared to ‘break EU unity’ to start Brexit trade talks says leading MEP

EUROPEAN leaders are secretly prepared to “break” the EU’s unified position on Brexit and force through the start of trade talks rather than allow Britain to leave with no deal, a leading MEP said today.

Jean-Claude Juncker and Syed KamallGETTY/EbS

Syed Kamall said EU leaders are prepared to break unity to open trade talks

ECR leader Syed Kamall told he had spoken to EU ministers and prime ministers who privately admitted they will crack their phased negotiating approach if the divorce remains deadlocked.The influential Tory MEP said the bloc has “trapped itself” with the rigid mandate it gave to Michel Barnier and is now frantically trying to find a way out of its predicament without appearing to backtrack.

And he said recent developments show the issue of trade is “starting to creep in” to discussions about Brexit despite Brussels’ insistence that it cannot be considered until the divorce issues have been settled.

Mr Kamall made the remarks during an interview on the sidelines of the EU Council summit in Brussels, where EU27 leaders are tomorrow set to declare there has been no “sufficient progress” in the talks.

He said: “When I speak to ministers and actually prime ministers as well, I say to them guys are you really serious about this sequencing, surely you want to talk about trade?
“You’ve got exporters selling to the UK, you buy stuff from the UK, are you really prepared to just sort of do the sequencing and leave no time for trade talks?“They say to me look, we will preserve the unity of the EU27 as long as possible but if it starts getting to a stage that we feel that our exporters can no longer sell to the UK, we’ll break the unity of the 27.

“We may not do it publicly but we will put pressure on to move onto trade talks. I now know there are ministers and prime ministers who are saying for goodness sake, we’ve got to talk about trade.”

Mr Kamall said the recent leak of a German foreign ministry paper, which calls for a “comprehensive” trade deal with Britain, was intended by the EU as “a signal that we are talking about trade”.

The EU side has trapped itself in the sequencing

Syed Kamall

On Mr Barnier’s mandate, he said: “The EU side has trapped itself in the sequencing – it’s now become a trap. We can’t move on until we’ve got these three issues.“And actually we all know that some of those issues such as the Ireland border, they don’t really want to solve now because that’s supposed to be a trade issue.

“Once you solve the Ireland border you’ve solved the EU-UK trade agreement effectively, so what’s interesting now I think is the fact they’re saying we’re not talking about trade but they’ve already starting talking about trade.

He added: “They were talking about tariff free quotas, everybody started talking about geographical indicators – trade issues are starting to creep in. Now we’re being told of course the EU will have an internal discussion about trade, so what you’re seeing is trade move higher up the agenda.”

He said: “If you look at the negotiations and take a step back and say what are the strengths and weaknesses of both sides, the EU’s biggest weakness is clearly the money.

“Austria, Denmark and Sweden saying we are not going to pay a penny more when the UK leaves, countries such as Poland saying we will not receive a penny less. So effectively Barnier has to go and get as much money as possible from the UK.

“When they look at the UK they see our biggest weakness as uncertainty – let’s delay the talks for as long as possible so it’ll create uncertainty and companies and the CBI and all their other accomplices will put pressure on the British government.

“[They’ll say] just pay what it takes, we don’t care what it takes – just pay it, we want a deal. So actually this is part of a delaying tactic that I see as part of the EU’s negotiating.”

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