Britain should pay into EU budget until 2020 - Poland

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Britain should keep paying into the European Union’s joint coffers until the end of the current budget period in 2020, Poland’s deputy foreign minister said on Thursday.

A Union flag flies next to the flag of the European Union in Westminster, London, Britain, June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Toby Melville/Files

The question of budget contributions is one complexity among many as Britain prepares to disentangle itself from its 27 EU partners after voting to quit the bloc in June. It currently plans to initiate a two-year leaving process next March, meaning it would actually cease being a member by early 2019.

“I think the EU will stand on the position that in the current financial framework Britain’s budget contributions should be upheld,” Polish minister Konrad Szymanski told reporters a day after meeting the European Commission’s Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, and other senior EU officials.

Barnier and key officials from the European Council, which groups EU national leaders, are holding meetings in Brussels this week with representatives of all the member states except Britain in order to start building a joint negotiating position.

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May said he had not seen the comments but added that “as long as we are members of the European Union we will fulfil our obligations”.

Other key battle lines in negotiations will be immigration and trade. Pro-Brexit champions argued during the referendum campaign that leaving the bloc would cut immigration because Britain would no longer be subject to EU rules allowing citizens to live and work in any of the 28 countries.

But EU leaders say Britain cannot retain access to the tariff-free EU single market, a huge boon for its exports of goods and services, if it stops allowing free movement.

Szymanski said Poland wanted several key areas decided as part of Brexit talks. “It is the free flow of people, rights of our workers who are already in Britain, Britain’s budgetary commitments and transition periods,” he said.

There are about 790,000 Poles living in Britain according to official figures from 2014, the second-largest overseas-born population in the country after those from India.

A diplomatic source in Brussels said of his country’s meeting this week: “Our red lines are that single market access must come with freedom of movement. And that the rights of our citizens who already are in Britain must be kept and protected.”

Another diplomat said that, once the British notification arrived, EU governments would need around three months to agree on the guidelines and the more specific negotiating mandate, which meant real negotiations with London could start mid-2017.

“One thing is clear – whatever future status they (Britain) get, it has to be worse than membership. Otherwise, why would anyone want to stay in?” this diplomat said.

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper in London, Writing by Jan Strupczewski and Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Mark Trevelyan