European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker promised Wednesday to seek a “balanced” deal for Britain’s exit from the EU, after Prime Minister Theresa May unveiled her Brexit plan.
“For my part, I will do everything so that the negotiations reach a balanced solution, with full respect for our rules,” Juncker told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.
“I welcome the clarifications given by Mrs May, but I said to her last night that a speech will not launch the negotiations,” he said, adding that could only happen when Britain triggers formal divorce proceedings.
May has promised to trigger Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty by the end of March but set out key proposals in her speech in London on Tuesday, including Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union’s single market.
“There will be an unprecedented negotiation which must finish within two years and the consequences will be considerable for the United Kingdom, its 27 partners and the whole union,” Juncker said.
Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, whose country holds the six-month rotating presidency of the EU, reiterated that any Brexit deal must be “inferior” to membership of the bloc.
“We want a fair deal for the UK but that deal necessarily needs to be inferior to membership. This should not come as a surprise to anyone — indeed thinking it can be otherwise would be a detachment from reality,” Muscat said.
He said May’s determination to leave the single market was a “somewhat positive development” as it confirms the EU 27’s position that access to the market could not be separated from the bloc’s commitment to freedom of movement.
May said Tuesday it was more important for Britain to be able to limit immigration from the rest of the EU than to keep unfettered market access.
The Maltese premier added that the EU would hold an “extraordinary” summit on Brexit “a short period of time” after Article 50 is triggered, probably four or five weeks later.