Sunday 22 April 2018

'27 states have Irish interests at heart'

'Chaotic' UK stands alone in Brexit talks, insists German MEP Weber

German MEP Manfred Weber. Photo: Justin Farrelly
German MEP Manfred Weber. Photo: Justin Farrelly

Sarah Collins in Brussels

The UK is in a "chaotic" state and "stands alone" in Brexit talks, leading German MEP Manfred Weber has said.

The head of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) in the European Parliament also said the EU would stand by Ireland in the talks.

"We have London, which is simply a chaotic situation," Mr Weber told the Irish Independent. "Nobody knows who is governing the country, nobody knows what is now the idea for Brexit. We only hear what they don't want in the Brexit debate, but we have no idea what they want."

A year on from the UK's vote to leave the bloc, the close ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel insists Europe is in a "very stable situation".

He said Germany "will do whatever I think it can do to keep Europe together", including standing up for Ireland's bid to get a good deal on the Border.

"Irish interests are top interests not only for the country, they are top interests for 27 member states," said Mr Weber, whose EPP group is the largest in parliament and counts Fine Gael's four MEPs as members.

Read More: Davis 'not 100pc sure' of UK agreeing deal with EU

"So you are covered with your interests by a big family. London stands alone and Ireland is covered by 27," he said.

Brexit talks got under way a week ago, with negotiators agreeing to focus first on the EU's three priority issues of citizens, money and Ireland, before starting talks on a free trade deal.

British Prime Minister Theresa May last week outlined what she called a "serious and fair" offer to guarantee EU citizens' rights post-Brexit, but her plans fell short of EU expectations.

Question marks also hang over how much the UK's financial settlement will be. Many EU countries want to get as much as they can out of the UK in the financial settlement, as it will mean less for them to pay into the EU budget.

"We will not accept that the bill for leaving the European Union is paid by the rest of the European Union. So the Brits have to pay their bill. Full stop. When somebody is leaving the European Union, others can not pay for this."

Read More: Europe's concern for Ireland is sincere, but solutions less clear

But Mr Weber said EU countries - including Ireland, which has become a net payer into the EU, putting more in than it gets out - should consider spending more on the EU once the UK leaves. "If we can prove the European added value on our measures, then we also ask for the member states to be credible partners, to pay what is necessary and what is an advantage for the citizens in the EU."

That might also mean a reorientation of EU spending away from agriculture, which makes up around 40pc of the current budget, towards other challenges, such as defence, Mr Weber said.

What is clear is that the EU is united on the need to make sure the UK does not get a better deal outside the bloc than it enjoyed inside.

"We are not any more ready to accept any kind of cherry picking from the Brits - this game is over," Mr Weber said.

"They want to leave? That means they are losing the advantages of this Union."

Irish Independent

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