STRASBOURG (REUTERS) - European Parliament leaders told London's Brexit negotiator on Tuesday (Nov 22) that Britain should expect to be shut out of cooperation in areas it values once it leaves the European Union.
David Davis met Guy Verhofstadt, the EU legislature's lead Brexit negotiator, and Manfred Weber, a conservative ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel who leads the biggest bloc in the parliament The European Parliament must approve Britain's divorce deal.
The meetings were part of preparations before British Prime Minister Theresa May triggers negotiations under Article 50 of the EU treaty, which she has pledged to do by March. They focused on procedure, but there were hints of clashes to come.
Weber voiced impatience with a lack of clarity from May on what she will ask for.
In notably harsh terms, he said a suggestion from Davis that Britain remain in or closely tied to the EU's single market while rejecting free immigration by Europeans or the oversight of EU courts was not workable.
"Brexit means Brexit," he said in Strasbourg, echoing May's famously opaque definition of what her government will ask for following the June referendum vote to leave the Union.
"I see a British government that keeps saying where it wants to cooperate closely and not how it wants to leave the European Union," he told reporters after meeting Davis.
He said Davis voiced an interest in maintaining economic ties and also close cooperation in areas such as justice and criminal affairs.
"So I must stress again: Brexit means Brexit, that means leaving the European Union, that means cutting off relations ... and not cherry picking, not special relationships," Weber said.
Verhofstadt, a former Belgian prime minister and champion of much closer EU integration, again insisted that Britain could not enjoy the three freedoms of movement for goods, services and capital without the fourth, freedom of labour.
He also insisted that the Brexit deal be wrapped up before the next EU legislative elections in May 2019.
Davis, asked if he wanted single market membership, said:"What we are after is that which is in the interest of the Union and in the interest of the United Kingdom: trading interests, business, manufacturing and services and the aim is to make it as open as possible ... That's the clear overarching aim."
He said he found Verhofstadt "a very nice man".
In September, when asked about the Belgian's appointment, he remarked to a British lawmaker "Get thee behind me, Satan!"
"It is important to ... first get to know each other, meet each other, get to trust each other and secondly to understand the structures," he told Reuters after the meetings, a day after talks in Brussels with Michel Barnier, who will lead the overall negotiations run by the executive European Commission.
Despite general efforts to maintain politeness on both sides, there were reminders in Strasbourg of the anger many European politicians feel toward Britain's Brexit campaigners.
Weber lashed out at Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson for having told Turkey he would help it join the EU after he had used the prospect of Turkish accession to urge British voters to leave the bloc to avoid immigration by Turks. "It's unbelievable, it's a provocation and it's arrogant,"he said.
Verhofstadt derided both fellow European Parliament lawmaker and Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage and US President-elect Donald Trump, who suggested on Tuesday that May name Farage her US envoy.
"One clown in Washington is more than enough," Verhofstadt told the chamber.