Member states of the European Union have set a tough negotiating mandate for talks over Brexit, reiterating their stance that Britain has to settle its debts before withdrawal from the bloc. EU ministers met in the EU de facto capital Brussels on Monday and unanimously agreed to block post-Brexit trade deals with London until Britain settled “what it owes before leaving the bloc.”
The ministers also tightened the legal wording of the mandate for Michel Barnier, who has been appointed to lead the Brexit negotiations with the UK, to launch talks on their behalf after Britain’s June 8 election.
Barnier told reporters at a Brussels press conference that the agreement was “a demonstration of determination and confidence” backed not only by all the EU members but also by the European Commission, European Council and European Parliament.
“From the day the UK decided to leave, the EU has gone through an intense preparatory process,” he said. “We are ready and well prepared. We have a clear mandate supported by all 27 member states.” The bloc’s chief Brexit negotiator said he hoped to get around the negotiating table with the UK team “as soon as possible” and looked forward to talks taking place in a “positive atmosphere.”
Barnier had previously warned of serious consequences if the UK abandoned the EU without a trade deal. Last month, the bloc’s members agreed that the Brexit talks would take place on a phased basis. Under the plan, the free trade agreement with the UK would only be discussed after the issues of the EU citizens’ rights and the budget are settled.
British Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty in March to officially begin divorce talks between Britain and the EU. However, Brexit negotiations will not begin until after the UK general election on June 8. The United Kingdom held a referendum last June in which Britons voted by a 52-48 percent margin to leave the EU, the first member state ever to do so.