EU's Juncker says ties with UK will always be close but Brexit demands remain
(Adds Polish comment, TV, PIX, detail)
By Alastair Macdonald
STRASBOURG, Sept 12 (Reuters) - European Commission head
Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday renewed a pledge of close trade
and security ties with Britain after Brexit, but said the
European Union would not compromise on key withdrawal terms.
Delivering his annual state-of-the-union speech to the
European Parliament, Juncker said the EU will not allow Britain
to participate only in some parts of the bloc's single market
after Brexit without honouring all of its rules.
The EU respects Britain's decision to leave, Juncker said.
"But we also ask the British government to understand that
someone who leaves the union cannot be in the same privileged
position as a member state."
"After 29 March 2019, the United Kingdom will never be an
ordinary third country for us. The United Kingdom will always be
a very close neighbour and partner, in political, economic and
security terms," Juncker said.
Markets have been reacting increasingly nervously to Brexit
news in recent weeks as the EU and Britain have yet to reach a
comprehensive agreement before Britain leaves on March 29, 2019.
Businesses fear a disruptive "no-deal" scenario under which
Britain would crash out of the EU next year with few agreements
in place to transition into a new reality. Avoiding
reintroducing checks on the EU-UK land border on the island of
Ireland remains a key obstacle.
The EU has highlighted in recent weeks a willingness to work
closely with Britain after Brexit, to help Prime Minister
Theresa May convince her divided cabinet and parliament to
accept Brexit terms, including the Irish fix. But Juncker made
clear key demands by the bloc held firm.
"The European Commission, this Parliament and all other 26
member states will always show loyalty and solidarity with
Ireland when it comes to the Irish border," Juncker said.
CLOSE BUT NOT THERE YET
A senior EU official said separately it would be sending a
"wrong signal" to suggest there was a softening of the EU line,
and dismissed suggestions the bloc's leaders might rejig
instructions for chief negotiator Michel Barnier when they meet
May in Austria next week.
Juncker sent a positive signal on parts of May's Brexit
proposal, known as the "Chequers" plan for the country residence
where it was hammered out in July.
While the EU opposes May's call for Britain to stay in a
free trade zone with the EU for goods only, Juncker said the two
sides should seek a broad free-trade deal.
"I welcome Prime Minister May's proposal to develop an
ambitious new partnership for the future, after Brexit. We agree
with the statement made in Chequers that the starting point for
such a partnership should be a free trade area between the
United Kingdom and the European Union," Juncker said.
The plan is opposed in Britain by both supporters of closer
ties and those who want a clean break, including a strong
eurosceptic wing of May's own Conservative party.
Poland, which has broken ranks by suggesting in a
closed-door meeting of the remaining 27 EU states that they may
have to pick between a tough stance on Ireland and having any
deal with Britain, also sent a positive signal to London.
"We are very close to an agreement," Polish EU affairs
minister Konrad Szymanski, told a news conference in Warsaw on
Wednesday, adding that most issues were not controversial.
(Additional reporting by Marcin Goclowski in Warsaw, Writing by
Gabriela Baczynska, Editing by Peter Graff)
First Published: 2018-09-12 06:00:00
Updated 2018-09-12 13:22:41
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