Brexit ball in Britain's court - Austrian finance minister

LONDON (Reuters) - The Brexit ball is in Britain’s court and the country should start the procedure to exit the European Union as soon as possible, Austrian Finance Minister Hans Joerg Schelling said on Thursday.

Austria's Finance Minister Hans-Joerg Schelling attends a panel discussion on "financial policy for a new confidence in Europe" at imperial Hofburg Palace in Vienna March 12, 2015. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo

He said Britain’s shock June 23 referendum vote to leave the European Union was a decision he greatly regretted but that had to be respected.

“Britain has to deliver, not the European Union...First of all, the most important step is to start the procedure by triggering Article 50 which has to be presented by Great Britain, and I hope so really soon,” Schelling told Reuters in an interview.

“Second step is: Great Britain told us they don’t want to leave Europe, they just want to leave the European Union so therefore it is necessary to find a way for something like a trade contract, an association contract,” he said.

Such a contract could allow cooperation between Britain and the bloc on economic issues akin to the current relationship.

However, no compromise could be made on the fact that any country wanting access to the bloc’s common market had to maintain the so-called ‘four freedoms’ -- free movement of workers along with movement of capital, goods and services.

“It is not possible to get rights without obligations...If you want to have access to the single market you have to accept the four freedoms of the European Union,” said Schelling, who was due to meet his British counterpart Philip Hammond on Thursday.

“The question is: How do you make a flexibility in between this because you have many countries that are not members of the European Union like Switzerland, Norway, Lichtenstein - they have contracts with us,” he said, adding each of those countries had specific circumstances.

“It is not a solution to say: Just let us wait (and see) what is the opinion of the European Union and then we discuss this a little bit.”

Prime Minister Theresa May has said Article 50 would not be triggered this year and warned the government would reveal little about its strategy on key issues like immigration and trade as it prepares to negotiate Britain’s exit from the EU.

Once the exit process has been started, Britain has an initial two-year period to negotiate its departure.

Asked if he was meeting with British banks and industry leaders to make a case for relocating to Austria, Schelling said: “We have many meetings, also with the banks and we are also interested to bring the EBA (European Banking Authority) to Vienna.”

Reporting by Karin Strohecker; editing by Ralph Boulton