(Reuters) – The European Union’s approach to negotiations on Britain’s departure from the bloc will be “neither aggressive nor naive”, the union’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said on Thursday.
Prime Minister Theresa May wants to kick off a two-year exit negotiation by the end of March, setting in motion an unprecedented withdrawal from Britain’s biggest trading partner.
“I cannot at this stage comment on the substance of the negotiations … but I can say that our approach will be neither aggressive nor naive,” Barnier told reporters after meeting Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico in Bratislava.
“The fundamental priority is the unity of the 27 (other EU members) as well as the indivisible four freedoms,” he said.
Britain voted in a referendum last June to leave the EU.
May, who has committed to abiding by the result, has said she wants to win the best possible access to the EU’s hundreds of millions of consumers.
But she has not set out exactly what kind of deal she wants for fear of undermining her negotiating hand.
Limits on foreigners’ right to live and work in Britain will be the key obstacle in the negotiations.
The EU has insisted that the “four freedoms” of free movement of workers, goods, services and capital cannot be separated from each other and Britain could not cherry-pick only those that benefit its interests.
Slovakia’s Fico reiterated that view on Thursday, saying Slovakia would seek for the rights of its citizens already in Britain to be guaranteed.