Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is a “failure and a tragedy” for the bloc, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said.
Speaking in a BBC interview as the bloc prepares for its 60th-anniversary celebrations in Rome this weekend, Mr. Juncker admitted Brexit casts a shadow on the events.
Next Wednesday, just days after the anniversary of the 1957 Treaty of Rome, Britain will formally begin the process of leaving the bloc following the referendum last year.
Prime Minister Theresa May will be conspicuously absent from this weekend’s celebrations, prompting a BBC interviewer to ask Mr. Juncker whether her non-attendance would be the “elephant in the room”.
“She’s not an elephant,” Mr. Juncker joked.
He did concede, however, that on top of Brexit, the EU faces internal disagreements among its member states on fundamental questions concerning immigration, multiculturalism, and the single currency.
“We are not in the best form and shape we could be in,” he said.
Mr. Juncker insisted the EU would not be “hostile” to Britain during the negotiations; however, he expected Britain would have to pay upon leaving.
“We are not in a hostile mood when it comes to Brexit because I do think, and I do want, and I do wish to have with Britain in the next decades a friendly relationship … we’ll negotiate in a friendly way, in a fair way and we are not naïve,” the Commission president said.
“I don’t want others to take the same avenue [as the UK] because let’s suppose for one second that others would leave. Two, three, four, five: that would be the end.”
Britain will have to pay when it leaves, but the exact amount has yet to be “scientifically calculated”.
“You cannot pretend you were never a member of the union,” he said.
“The British government and parliament took on certain commitments as EU members and they must be honoured. This isn’t a punishment or sanctions against the UK.”