Brexit: Britain could have 'special status' relationship with EU, says German minister

But the minister wants British MEPs out of the European Parliament by 2019 at the latest

Jess Staufenberg
Wednesday 17 August 2016 09:40 BST
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Mrs May has said Brexit could begin later in 2017 as her new departments are not yet ready
Mrs May has said Brexit could begin later in 2017 as her new departments are not yet ready (AFP)

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Britain could enjoy a "special" relationship with the EU owing to its unique "size and significance", a German minister has said.

Once Britain has ended its 43-year-long membership with the bloc, it would not get a deal similar to that of other ex-EU members such as Switzerland and Norway, according to Michael Roth, Germany's European Affairs Minister.

Instead, Britain's long relationship with the EU means it could have a "special status" and be dealt with differently to other countries outside the union.

But London needed to trigger Article 50 early next year to initiate the exit, said Mr Roth. He added that the free movement of people would also not be readily curtailed.

"Given Britain's size, significance and its long membership of the European Union, there will probably be a special status which only bears limited comaprison to that of countries that have never belonged to the European Union," he told Reuters.

"I want relations between the European Union and Britain to be as close as possible".

Mr Roth has said London must initiate talks about leaving the EU early next year (Reuters )
Mr Roth has said London must initiate talks about leaving the EU early next year (Reuters ) (Reuters)

Mr Roth, who is a junior partner in Angela Merkel's coalition and a member of the Social Democrats, said British MEPs could no longer sit around the table in the European Parliament when the UK had voted by a slim majority to leave.

The process of removal should start in early 2017, he said.

"We can't quibble about it. Even if we didn't want or hope for it, Brexit won and, as it won, there can't be any British members in the next European Parliament," said Mr Roth.

Theresa May has said her government will not trigger Article 50, which begins the process of exiting the bloc, before the end of the year. Recent reports have suggested she may push this date to later in 2017 because her new Brexit and international trade departments will not be ready.

The terms of Britain's relationship once it has fully left must take no longer than two years to negotiate, according to the EU's laws on the subject.

Britain would then be absent from the European Parliament in time for the next EU elections in 2019.

Asked whether Britain could enjoy free trade with the world's largest trading bloc while refusing to allow free movement of its citizens, Mr Roth said that was highly unlikely.

"I can't imagine that," he responded.

"The free movement of workers is a highly prized right in the European Union and we don't want to wobble on that."

Additional reporting from agencies

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