Spain’s foreign minister Alfonso Dastis is the second senior European political figure to break ranks with the European Union (EU) this week by saying he backs early trade talks with the UK and rejects imposing “punitive” Brexit arrangements.
The EU’s position remains that Britain is barred from negotiating any new trade deals, with the bloc’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier maintaining a divorce deal needs to be agreed first.
But Mr. Dastis has come out in support of beginning trade talks with Britain before Article 50 is triggered and said he is sympathetic to several of Britain’s Brexit demands, reports the Financial Times.
“It would actually be good, while we speak about the separation, to also define where we want to be in terms of a new framework [for EU-UK relations],” Mr. Dastis said.
This comes after Czech Republic Interior Minister Milan Chovanec said this week his country should “undertake an independent initiative” and start talks with the UK.
“We are interested in getting a result that is good for both sides. We won’t give up that interest for the sake of strict procedural requirements,” the Spanish foreign minister said.
Following Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit speech, where she affirmed Britain would leave the single market, control immigration, and maintain trade links with the EU, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Britain would pay a “huge price” for prioritising immigration controls over single market access.
Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, whose country has just taken on the six-month EU presidency, has also said Britain’s deal for leaving the EU must be worse than the terms of its membership.
However, Mr. Dastis voiced his opposition to being “punitive”, saying “We don’t see this as a battle in which one side has to come out as the victor and the other as the vanquished”.
Outside of the supranational bloc, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has already begun conducting informal trade negotiations with 12 countries from around the world including Australia, South Korea, India, and China.
U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker has also confirmed the UK is “first in line” for a new bilateral trade deal. Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who delivered the historic Leave vote in the EU referendum, has said members of President Donald J. Trump’s administration have told him a trade deal could be agreed in just 90 days.
The Financial Times reports Spain is considered in the “centre ground” of the EU with which Mrs. May would need to strike a deal.
The Spanish foreign minister said his country “want[s] to preserve a close relationship with the UK” and that “it should be possible to achieve [a free trade agreement]”.