One of Europe’s most senior foreign ministers has warned against “punishing” the UK in a Brexit deal, as shunning the bloc’s second largest economy could spell a “catastrophe” and cost hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Jean Asselborn served as Luxembourg’s deputy prime minister from 2004 to 2013 under then-Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, now president of the European Commission. He has also served as foreign minister for 13 years.
He told German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel: “If the UK is not a member of the internal market then a free trade agreement between the EU and London will be needed for 2019 onwards.
“The British and the EU have to go into them willing to engage, but the talks also have to be fair and transparent. It would be a catastrophe for both sides if they aren’t held in this manner.
“Messing up the negotiations could result in the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs. Brexit isn’t just a footnote of interest for historians.”
The 67-year-old socialist said the UK should be “neither punished nor rewarded” and Eurocrats must “remain calm” and negotiate a trade deal quickly. The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has so far taken a much harder line.
He is reportedly plotting to ban talks on a Brexit trade deal until the UK responds to his demands to pay a £51.2 billion divorce bill. Barnier also possibly wants the UK to keep its borders open to free movement for another two years.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has promised to invoke Article 50, the two-year process of leaving the European Union (EU), by the end of March. Mr. Juncker is worried the process will “divide” the bloc.
However, Mr. Asselborn said: “We have to remain calm. It’s not so bad that the EU-27 have so far managed to avoid preliminary negotiations with London.
“Of course, we have to be cautious about London trying to ‘divide and rule’ once the negotiations are underway. The EU-27 should proceed under the idea that the UK should be neither punished nor rewarded for leaving the EU.”
In September 2016, Mr. Asselborn caused a furore when he called for the suspension or expulsion of Hungary from the EU over its migrant policies.