France and Germany will block May’s single market plan – Spain


Josep Borrell, Spain’s foreign minister

Theresa May’s plan to protect British industry by keeping the UK in a single market for goods without respecting the free movement of people after Brexit will be rejected by an “angry” France and Germany, despite some sympathy within the EU to Downing Street’s cause, Spain’s foreign minister has said.

The new Spanish government would also block such a political fix, Josep Borrell told the Guardian, ahead of both a summit of leaders in Brussels and a summer tour by the prime minister of EU capitals during which May hopes to convince leaders of her economic case.

Of those member states who might see value in a deal on single market access for goods without free movement, Borrell said: “They will not win the battle. They have not enough power. Germany will say no, France will say no, Spain will say no.”

The government has been rocked by a series of warnings from industry, from Airbus to BMW, that companies will move out of the UK unless preferential access to the single market can be secured in the negotiations.

Ministers have openly squabbled over how seriously they should take the threats. The business secretary, Greg Clark, urged his cabinet colleagues to “listen with respect” and the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, called Airbus’s warnings “completely inappropriate”.

The prime minister is expected to publish a white paper on the UK’s vision of the future relationship, including a proposal for regulatory alignment on goods, for the benefit of UK industry and European-wide supply chains, shortly after a meeting of the cabinet at Chequers, the prime minister’s country retreat, on 6 July.

Whitehall sources insist that a deal should be eagerly accepted by European countries, given that they sell more into the UK than British companies sell into the continent.

Of the response that the UK is seeking to “cherrypick” EU membership, one senior UK cabinet source said: “But they [the EU] want a form of cooperation that goes beyond a normal free trade agreement. They want level playing field [measures] and fisheries. The bid is coming from the EU side, not just the UK, to go beyond existing practice.”

Borrell, however, said that while many member states could see the benefits of a deal on goods, and might be secretly willing to agree a reform of the free movement of people, the resistance from the most powerful member states would be too strong.

He warned that France and Germany were irritated with the energy-sapping talks with the UK and would not accept such a proposal. Spain, which he described as “disappointed, not angry” by Brexit, was in agreement with Paris and Berlin, he added.

Borrell, a former president of the European parliament, told the Guardian and two other European media outlets: “There are many European countries who would support the [UK] idea. Because they are against free movement of people. But not the big, powerful ones. Spain will not accept.”

He added: “I don’t think France or Germany will accept that. They are quite angry with the United Kingdom. Because of all this mess, all the trouble created, all this time lost on negotiations. When we should be discussing eurozone and immigration, we are discussing what to do with someone who wants to leave. It is really a very bad allocation of intelligence, resources and money.”

The EU will meet in Brussels on Thursday and Friday to discuss what Borrell described as the “hot topics” of migration and eurozone reform, along with the UK’s withdrawal, which is swiftly dropping down on the list of the bloc’s priorities.

“Brexit is not a political problem but it is a pain in the ass,” Borrell said. “Brexit is considered a past problem. We know they are leaving, it is a matter of how. Brexit is just implementation.”

A statement from the leaders at the summit on Friday is nevertheless expected to express deep concern about the lack of progress in the Brexit talks and reiterate the offer of a more economically advantageous deal should the UK change its red lines on leaving the single market, customs union and jurisdiction of the European court of justice.

The issue that is most likely to lead to the talks collapsing remains that of avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Following a bilateral meeting with the Irish foreign minister, Simon Coveney, in the margins of a meeting at Luxembourg, Borrell said: “It is impossible to put the border between the two Irelands – impossible. There are more than 300 crossing points. Are you going to put up 300 control posts? That is not possible.

“The idea of putting a virtual border, with drones and planes and computers … We are not so advanced. It does not work. So there are only two solutions. Either the whole of [the island of] Ireland is a [regulatory] area, and the border is in the British ports, which the United Kingdom will not accept. Or the UK remains in the EU customs [area].”

Borrell admitted that he believed that “on the last night we will not have an agreement, we will have to stop the clock as always”. But he warned that a fix that would suit all parties was not on the cards.

He added that negotiations with the UK over Gibraltar were continuing, with Spain insistent that the transition period after Brexit, in which the UK stays in the single market and customs union until December 2020, would not apply to the Rock unless an agreement on the territory’s future was found.

Borrell said that while the issue was not a Spanish priority, Madrid wanted “an agreement that protects the interests of the people living around Gibraltar”, and that action was needed to stop it acting as a tax haven.


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