Influential EU states such as Germany, France and Spain will block any attempt by the UK to remain within the single market for goods without freedom of movement, the Spanish Foreign Minister has said. Josep Borrell said that some smaller EU states might privately be willing to negotiate reform of the bloc’s free movement rules in order to keep easy access to UK products.
But he told The Guardian: “They will not win the battle. They have not enough power. Germany will say no, France will say no, Spain will say no.”
Mr Borrell said that Berlin and Paris were “angry” with Britain over Brexit, which he described as a “pain in the ass” which was distracting energy from issues such as immigration and euro-zone reform.
According to The Guardian, Mr Borrell said the transition period after Brexit, in which the UK stays in the single market and customs union until December 2020, will not apply to Gibraltar without prior agreement with Spain.
Mr Borrell said that while the issue was not a Spanish priority, Madrid wanted “an agreement that protects the interests of the people living around Gibraltar”.
He also reportedly told the newspaper that action was needed to stop Gibraltar acting as “a tax haven”.
This week’s summit of the European Council will focus on migration, security and the economy on Thursday, though leaders of the remaining 27 EU countries will discuss Brexit in Theresa May’s absence on Friday.
Asked how he would characterize the progress of Brexit talks since the last summit in March, European Union spokesman Margaritis Schinas told a Brussels press conference: “Average, with a potential of improvement.”
The comment came as Mrs May celebrated Royal Assent for her flagship EU Withdrawal Bill, telling Cabinet it was “a major building block for the UK’s bright future outside the EU”.
Reports suggest that plans for a future trading relationship expected to be outlined by the Prime Minister in next month’s Brexit white paper could include proposals for regulatory alignment on goods, to preserve continental markets for UK producers without tying Britain to accepting foreign workers.
The expected move comes as major companies including BMW and Airbus warn of the risk of activities being transferred to the EU if Britain leaves the customs union in a “hard Brexit”.
And London Mayor Sadiq Khan told MPs that major job losses can be expected in the capital if the Government allows service industries to “fall off a cliff edge” after Brexit.
Speaking ahead of a meeting of the EU’s General Affairs Council in Luxembourg, Mr Borrell told The Guardian: “There are many European countries who would support the (UK) idea. Because they are against free movement of people. But not the big, powerful ones.”
“Spain will not accept. I don’t think France or Germany will accept that.”
“They are quite angry with the United Kingdom. Because of all this mess, all the trouble created, all this time lost on negotiations. When we should be discussing euro-zone and immigration, we are discussing what to do with someone who wants to leave. It is really a very bad allocation of intelligence, resources and money.”
Mr Borrell dismissed the idea of a hard border in Ireland as “impossible” and said the UK Government’s “maximum facilitation” proposal to use technology to avoid the need for customs checks would not work, leaving only the options of keeping Northern Ireland or the whole of the UK in the customs union.