Muscat adamant on single market position in Brexit negotiations

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has reiterated EU leaders’ claims that the UK will not have access to the single market without free movement of people

Joseph Muscat has said that there has been no talk of bluffing in council meetings (Photo: BBC)
Joseph Muscat has said that there has been no talk of bluffing in council meetings (Photo: BBC)

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has said that EU leaders are not "bluffing" when they say the UK will be left without access to the single market when it leaves the 28-country bloc if there is no free movement of people.

In an interview with the BBC, Muscat said that "this is really and truly our position and I don't see it changing," adding that talks on the details of a "new relationship" could be delayed.

In the UK, much political debate has focused on the possibility of a "soft" Brexit , whereby the UK would retain some form of membership of the single market in exchange for conceding some control over immigration, and a "hard Brexit”, which would see Britian leaving the single market but having fuller control over migration.

Muscat said the UK and EU needed to first reach agreement on a range of other details once UK Prime Minister Theresa May triggers Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which she has said she will do in March.

According to Muscat, these included the bill the UK must pay before leaving, establishing what will happen to the UK-Republic of Ireland border and working out interim arrangements on issues like security.

Asked about a suggestion from Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson that the UK could in theory stay in single market and place limits on the freedom of movement of EU citizens, Muscat insisted that "it's just not happening."

"All of us have been pretty clear in our approach that we want a fair deal for the UK but that kind of fair deal can't translate itself into a superior deal. I know that there is absolutely no bluffing from the European side, at least in the council meetings I have attended, saying 'we will start in this position and then we will soften up',” he said. "No, this is really and truly our position."

"We are going to lose something but there will not be a situation when the UK has a better deal than it has today".

Muscat also reiterated the view that even when a final or interim deal is struck between EU leaders and Britain, the European Parliament may decide to veto it in 2019.

His comments come days after the UK's Brexit Secretary David Davis described his meeting with the European Parliament's chief negotiator Guy Verhofstadt as a "good start".

Davis said their pre-negotiations discussion had been able to cover structures and how both sides propose to approach the Brexit talks, adding a deal was possible that was in the interests of the EU and the UK.

The UK government has said it does not want to reveal its negotiating hand on Brexit before the talks take place.

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