A senior member of the Czech government has broken ranks with the European Union (EU) and suggested the country should sign a bilateral Brexit deal with the UK separate from the bloc.
Interior Minister Milan Chovanec told public broadcaster Czech Television the Eastern European republic should “undertake an independent initiative” and not wait for a UK-EU deal, reports Radio Prague.
Seeking a quick deal in the interests of securing the status of his citizens in the UK, Mr. Chovanec criticised the EU on its approach to negotiating saying his government “should…not wait for what Europe does. We don’t know how long the talks would take or if we would even see [a deal] achieved.”
“I hope we will negotiate on our own,” he continued. “We do not know if there will be a final European agreement on this and we must defend the interests of Czech citizens.”
Prime Minister Theresa May had hoped to begin negotiations before triggering Article 50; however, EU leaders are opposed.
Mr. Chovanec added his government was already involved in “intensive” discussions with the UK government.
“We are of course consulting about these things with the British interior ministry but the main focus will be with the foreign ministry and I believe that consultations are already intensively underway.”
That assertion was denied by a British official who told The Telegraph, “We have been very clear that we are not interested in bilateral deals… we presume these remarks are aimed for domestic consumption.”
Czech MEPs Pavel Telička and Petr Ježek, both members of the left wing and pro-federal EU parliamentary group the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), criticised the interior minister’s comments. At a press conference, Mr. Telička called the idea “foolish” while Mr. Ježek expressed doubts the Czech Republic alone could negotiate better terms than Germany or France.
Chovanec has previously broken ranks with EU orthodoxy to speak for the interests of his country. In September 2015, during the migrant crisis, the minister blasted German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the EU, for attempting to push through a migrant redistribution scheme across the bloc.
In the same month, he proved an early proponent of suspending the Schengen zone by announcing the Czech Republic would be securing her border with Austria.
Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka is said to be consulting with the leaders of all parliamentary parties to forge a common Czech line on Brexit negotiations.