Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told Italy’s economic development minister that Italy would give Britain access to the single market after Brexit “because you don’t want to lose prosecco exports.”
“I said, ‘no way.’ He said, ‘you’ll sell less prosecco.’ I said, ‘OK, you’ll sell less fish and chips, but I’ll sell less prosecco to one country and you’ll sell less to 27 countries.’ Putting things on this level is a bit insulting,” Calenda said.
The Italian minister’s comments offer some insight into the alarm with which some European officials are observing the British government’s wrangling over Brexit. Johnson has already caused uproar in Europe this week, after telling a Czech newspaper that the UK would likely leave the EU’s customs union but remain in the single market.
Countries within the customs union trade with each other tariff-free, and set import tar riffs on other nations, but are unable to strike their own, individual free trade deals with countries outside the bloc. Johnson’s suggestion was that the UK could retain access to the single market with the benefits of free-trade, but leave the customs union so he could strike up free trade deals with countries outside the bloc.
The question of whether to remain in the customs union has divided Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet. Johnson, along with pro-Brexit ministers David Davis and Liam Fox, wants to leave, but Chancellor Philip Hammond has urged caution.
Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem responded by saying that Johnson’s claims were “intellectually impossible, and politically unavailable.”
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Theresa May was forced to deny commissioning a leaked report which said that another 30,000 officials would be required to deal with the huge task of leaving the European Union.
Calenda warned that the UK’s debate over Brexit risked becoming dominated by internal tussles within the Conservative party. “There’s lots of chaos and we don’t understand what the position is,” he said.
“It’s all becoming an internal UK debate, which is not OK.” He said the country “needs to sit down, put its cards on the table and negotiate.”
“Somebody needs to tell us something, and it needs to be something that makes sense,” he said. “You can’t say that it’s sensible to say we want access to the single market but no free circulation of people. It’s obvious that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.”
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