The Hungarian government is pressing Brussels bureaucrats to adopt a more constructive and conciliatory stance in the Brexit negotiations, warning that a comprehensive trade agreement with Britain is “vital” for the European Union.
“It is in the interests of the whole of the European Union for the strategic relationship with the United Kingdom to continue to exist even after Britain’s exit”, said Péter Szijjártó, the country’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, in an interview with the MTI news agency.
“Hungary’s standpoint is clear: we want a fair Brexit and the broadest and most comprehensive agreement possible on future cooperation.”
Asked if such an agreement should include a trade deal, the minister was unequivocal:
“It is vital for the European Union, and accordingly also for Hungary, that a free trade agreement is concluded between the United Kingdom and the European Union.
“Because if we do not succeed in coming to such an agreement, then the World Trade Organisations (WTO) regulations will come into force … and that would mean the appearance of customs and non-excise related obstacles to bilateral trade.
“In view of the fact that the British economy provides one-seventh of the EU’s economic performance, and also taking into account that today’s global economic and global trade environment is built on speed, freedom from obstacles and comprehensive standardisation, failure to conclude a free trade agreement would have tragic consequences for the European economy,” he stressed.
— Jack Montgomery ن (@JackBMontgomery) October 15, 2017
This is not the first time Mr Szijjártó has underlined the importance of the United Kingdom — which will be the European Union’s single largest export market after Brexit — to EU-based businesses.
In an interview on BBC Newsnight earlier this year the foreign minister told a clearly uncomfortable James O’Brien — normally a fierce opponent of Brexit — that, contrary to popular opinion, ‘No Deal’ represented a “nightmare scenario” not for Britain, but for the European Union.
“If there’s no deal, if there’s no comprehensive economic, trade and investment agreement, then we will be in big trouble in Europe, because the last time we were able to implement a free trade agreement was in 2011 with [South] Korea,” he explained.
“So the problem is the EU is very slow on free trade agreements, and if Britain gets free hands then you will be able to sign free trade agreements with India, with Turkey, with the U.S., with Australia, with which the European Union does not have free trade agreements.
“So, if this is the case, then it will harm our competitiveness, harm the competitiveness of Europeans furthermore … we want the most comprehensive economic trade and investment partnership with the UK in the future.”
Research by the Civitas think tank suggests that trade under WTO terms would cost British exporters roughly £5.2 billion in additional tariff costs — but Britain would raise roughly £12.9 from tariffs on EU imports as well as saving between £10-20bn in annual controbutions to the EU budget, providing ample resources for exporters to be compensated through a range of research and development grants and general tax cuts.