LONDON — It is “deluded” to think that Britain will experience anything less than a rough ride during Brexit talks with the European Union, a former senior European Commission official has warned.
Jonathan Faull, who until his retirement in December was the European Commission’s most senior British official, told an audience in London on Monday afternoon that “nobody should be surprised” if the UK government struggles to achieve its goals.
Speaking at an event hosted by research group “UK In A Changing Europe,” Faull said: “Brexit negotiations will be the harsh reality of diplomacy. Nobody should be surprised unless they were a bit deluded.”
Faull, who held a number of top EU jobs including under Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker during the EU referendum campaign, was joined on a panel by European integration expert Professor Brigid Laffan and former French ambassador to the EU, Pierre Vimont.
Professor Laffan echoed Faull’s warning that Prime Minister Theresa May’s government faces an uphill struggle in exit negotiations with the EU — but added the 28-nation bloc doesn’t want to “punish” Britain for choosing to leave.
“There is a narrative [in Britain] that if the EU doesn’t give Britain absolutely everything it wants then it is a punishment. This is absolutely not the case.
“It is not punishment. It is simply the working through of the process of this country pulling itself out of the EU.
“The EU has lots of other priorities. Brexit is one.”
The panel agreed that the remaining 27 member states did not want Britain to leave. “People in the EU already thought the UK had a rather privileged position and were surprised it wasn’t good enough,” Faull said.
Virmont, who served as French ambassador both to the EU and US, told the Westminster audience that the 28-nation bloc will use Brexit talks to defend its own health and long-term interests, which is why it will not be prepared to make any major concessions to Prime Minister May and British ambassador to the EU Sir Tim Barrow in divorce talks.
“One of the problems that perhaps is not understood in Britain is that the EU 27 are going to have one eye on Brexit negotiations but another on the consequences of all of this in terms of how it will shape the remaining Union.
“The two discussions are gonna intertwine and this will make things more difficult.”
Professor Laffan agreed, adding: “There is a phrase in Brussels that ‘if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu’.”
May officially got Brexit underway when she triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty last month.
Talks between Britain and the EU are set to get underway later this month with issues like the size of the former’s divorce bill and residence rights of EU citizens to be settled before a future trade arrangement is negotiated.
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The panel of Europe experts agrees the EU is not interested in punishing Britain & the punishment narrative is overplayed #a50whatnext pic.twitter.com/13oTTWRcAu
— Adam Payne (@adampayne26) April 3, 2017
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