Brexit talks to take 'a lot longer than two years'

Mr Dijsselbloem (right), with Slovak Finance Minister Peter Kazimir, says Dutch law would not allow for a referendum in the Netherlands on EU membership.
Mr Dijsselbloem (right), with Slovak Finance Minister Peter Kazimir, says Dutch law would not allow for a referendum in the Netherlands on EU membership.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Negotiations complex and there is suspicion on both sides, says head of EU finance ministers

LONDON • Negotiations over Britain's departure from the European Union (EU) are very complex and are going to take longer than the scheduled two years, Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem said yesterday.

Britain has said it will trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty by the end of March next year, starting a 24-month countdown to its departure from the bloc.

"Negotiations are hugely complex... They are going to take a lot longer than two years," Mr Dijsselbloem, the Dutch head of the group of euro-zone finance ministers, said at an event in London, adding that both sides were viewing each other with "some suspicion".

A leaked memo published by British media this week said that the UK government has no overall strategy for leaving the EU and splits in Prime Minister Theresa May's Cabinet could delay a clear negotiating position for six months.

The government dismissed the memo as having no credibility.

Mr Dijsselbloem said many in Europe were also unprepared for Britain's vote in June to leave the bloc, which was not predicted by pollsters. "People make jokes about the UK not having a Brexit plan, but many Europeans didn't have a plan either," he said.

UNPREPARED

People make jokes about the UK not having a Brexit plan, but many Europeans didn't have a plan either.

EUROGROUP PRESIDENT JEROEN DIJSSELBLOEM

He said his "preferred" option would be for the UK not to trigger Article 50, but if this was not possible, he would want to maintain as much free trade between the Netherlands and the UK as possible.

Immigration, a major driver behind Britain's vote to leave the EU, has also been driving Dutch voters towards the far-right party of populist Geert Wilders ahead of elections in the Netherlands next year.

Mr Wilders, who is campaigning on a platform that would have the Netherlands close its borders to Muslim immigrants and quit the euro and EU, is polling higher than Prime Minister Mark Rutte's conservative VVD Party and Mr Dijsselbloem's Labour party.

But Mr Dijsselbloem said Dutch law would not allow for a referendum on EU membership similar to Britain's and that the people would not want it anyway.

"The Netherlands will stay in the EU, the public support (for the EU) has increased dramatically after Brexit," he said.

Meanwhile, he described as "intellectually impossible" the notion that Britain could retain unfettered access to the European single market while also cutting down on EU immigration.

Mr Dijsselbloem was reacting to an interview by Mr Boris Johnson with Czech daily Hospodarske noviny in which the British Foreign Minister reportedly said Britain would "probably" have to leave the European customs union but still have "free trade" with EU states.

"He's saying things that are intellectually impossible, politically unavailable," Mr Dijsselbloem told the BBC's Newsnight programme on Tuesday.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 17, 2016, with the headline 'Brexit talks to take 'a lot longer than two years''. Print Edition | Subscribe