Jean-Claude Juncker has dismissed Brexit negotiations over citizens’ rights as a “nonsense”, claiming he could not understand why the British had not guaranteed from the start that everything would remain the same for European nationals – “or ‘foreigners’, as they are saying in London” – after the UK leaves the EU.
The European commission president told students in Luxembourg on Friday that progress was being made on the issue but he failed to see why the British had not taken the “common sense” option of retaining the status quo.
Ahead of a European council summit next week, where leaders are expected to conclude that talks about any future trading relationship with Britain will have to be delayed due to a lack of progress on the issues of citizens’ rights, the Irish border and the divorce bill, Juncker also said the British were learning “day after day” about the perils of their choice to leave the bloc.
“Brexit is a serious issue,” he said. “It came unexpected but not totally unexpected. Now we have to deal with the results and first to be impressed by the numerous disadvantages that Brexit – Brexit meaning Brexit – is entailing for the British. They are discovering, as we are, day after day, new problems. That is the reason why this process will take longer than initially thought.”
He continued: “We had the idea that we would clear all the questions related to the divorce, but it’s not possible. Citizens’ rights, yes, we are making progress. I don’t even understand this problem. Why not say, easily, with common sense – which is not a political category, as we know – that things will stay as they are? The Europeans – ‘foreigners’, as they are saying in London – they are there in the island, and so many British friends are here. Let them here, let them there. Why are we discussing nonsense like that?”
On Thursday, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said the talks were in a state of “deadlock” due to a failure to find a way forward on the divorce bill, which it has been estimated could be as large as €100bn, although it is likely to come to half that amount.
Juncker reiterated the EU position that Britain would need to pay in full the cost of the financial commitments it had made as a member of the EU, including contingent liabilities such as pensions and covering long-term loans.
The British government has so far refused to spell out what it is willing to pay, claiming it cannot do so unless it is clear on what the future relationship with the bloc will be.
On citizens’ rights, differences remain between the negotiating parties on a number of issues including the so-called right of family reunification, which would allow EU nationals to avoid having to meet an income threshold, as British citizens do, when they are seeking to bring a non-EU spouse to the UK.
Juncker said on Friday that while European citizens would always grateful for Britain’s influence and impact on the continent, “now they [Britain] need to pay”.
He said: “We cannot find, for the time being, a real compromise as far as the remaining financial commitments of the UK are concerned. As we cannot do this, we will not be able to say during the European council in October that now we can move to the second phase of the negotiations, which means the shaping of the British-European future. Things have to [be] done. One has to deliver.”
To laughter from the students at Luxembourg university, he added: “If you are sitting in the bar and you are ordering 28 beers and then suddenly some of your colleagues [are leaving without] paying, that is not feasible. They have to pay, they have to pay.
“Not in an impossible way. I am not in a revenge way. I am not hating the British. We Europeans have to be grateful for many things to Britain. During the war, before the war, after the war. Everywhere and every time. But now they have to pay.”
This article was written by Daniel Boffey in Brussels, for theguardian.com on Friday 13th October 2017 11.35 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010