The European Commission fired a warning shot across Theresa May’s bow after her government decided to seek a tailor-made Brexit deal on its own terms, saying that the U.K. could not pick and choose the conditions it preferred.
The British premier earlier this week set out the first of her red lines for Brexit negotiations, saying she wanted to curtail the free movement of people coming to the U.K. from the European Union and suggesting she’s willing to leave the bloc’s single market to do so.
European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said in response in an interview Saturday with Bloomberg Television’s Flavia Rotondi at the Ambrosetti Forum in Cernobbio, Italy, that conditions on free movement of goods, services, capital and labor were “a package and there cannot be cherry picking — you like free movement of capital but don’t like free movement of labor or the other way round.”
Dombrovskis urged the U.K. to formally trigger negotiations on exiting the EU “without undue delay because it is important to provide some direction of the work and limit this period of uncertainty.” Britain has “a strategic decision to take, whether to stay inside the EU internal market or outside the internal market.”
Signaling lengthy talks ahead, Dombrovskis confirmed an initial two-year negotiating period could be prolonged, but only if there was the unanimous support of all EU states, including the U.K. In Stockholm, Sweden’s EU Minister Ann Linde said in an interview with Dagens Nyheter daily newspaper that at the end of the two years, the U.K. could be forced to leave the EU even if the two sides haven’t reached an agreement.
At the Cernobbio conference Yves Mersch, a European Central Bank Executive Board member, said earlier on Saturday that Brexit was triggering a debate not just on the EU’s future relationship with the U.K. but “also – and perhaps more importantly – on how to improve the functioning of the EU and of Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) as one of its key elements.”
Mersch said the poor quality of the public debate over the U.K.’s referendum had fueled populist movements. “The distortions and half-truths of the Brexit debate has shown that, first, complexity, second, uncertainty about pensions, third, low growth, and fourth, income distribution, offer fertile ground for extremists,” Mersch said.