14 Sep 2016

Juncker on Brexit: forget a la carte single market access

One hand in his pocket, wiping his top lip, Jean-Claude Juncker was anything but stirring as he gave his State of the Union address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg this morning.

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Many (not all) in the room are Euro-enthusiasts, yearning for clap-lines as the EU grapples with existential challenges. Many stood to applaud at the end but President Juncker’s address was described by some commentators as a bit of a laundry list.

Most interesting from a British perspective was what sounded like a slap-down for the hybrid, “bespoke” Brexit deal that Theresa May is seeking – something that gives more freedom (over immigration and law-making) than the Norway model but gets more advantages and trade benefits than the Canada trade deal.

President Juncker said the Single Market was an all or nothing affair – he ruled out “a la carte access to the Single Market”. That’s exactly what the Government appears to be aiming for when she says the UK wants some control of migration traded off with some (a lot, preferably) of the existing trade benefits of Single Market membership.

Theresa May, in China, described this as an “ambitious” approach. To borrow a term much deployed in Labour’s current leadership contest, some in Brussels say it is “delusional,” particularly when it comes to the services sector (some think manufactured goods could get more benign treatment).

He was pipped to the post by his rival (sorry, colleague), European Council President Donald Tusk, with his address to member nations ahead of the meeting (this Friday) of the 27 still in the EU when the UK leaves.

Mr Tusk though seems to echo Mr Juncker when it comes to Brexit: “We should stick to the Treaty and be coolheaded, consistent, and fully united as well as firm in insisting on a balance of rights and obligations. If we do so, there will be no room for doubt that it is a good thing to be a member of the Union.”

Opponents of the EU will, understandably, say these are opening negotiating bids, but making sure there is “no room for doubt” you’re better off in is quite a warning shot.

Yesterday, we heard from the Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator who warned of “very tough” talks and of an “ultra liberal drift” in the UK.

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