EU ministers for European affairs met Friday for initial discussions on Britain’s proposals for the future relationship after Brexit, with several raising questions about the White Paper put forward by the British government.
The British proposal envisages a common free-trade area for goods, which would see the country sign up to EU standards, while reaching different arrangements on services that would allow London to set its own rules for sectors such as its large financial industry.
However, the EU has always insisted that Britain cannot cherry-pick among the bloc’s four freedoms: freedom of goods, services, people and capital.
Ministers were not expected to adopt a formal response Friday to the British White Paper, with EU diplomats describing the proposal as just one document among many.
The EU had set out its vision of future relations earlier this year.
Germany’s European affairs minister, Michael Roth, said the White Paper contradicted the EU’s negotiating guidelines. “But guidelines are not red lines,” he told journalists ahead of Friday’s talks.
“There are rules, and these rules must be abided by,” Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said. “We should not play with this. At stake are tens of thousands of jobs, or more. And in a sense it is about stability in Europe,” he added.
The EU’s Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, is due to brief ministers on this week’s round of talks with London, as well as a meeting he held Friday with Britain’s newly appointed Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab.
The two sides have set themselves an October deadline to finalize the details of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU and a transition period, while agreeing on a political framework for future relations.