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Britain's long-time ally Sweden sides with EU on Brexit

Ann Linde, Sweden's new Minister for EU Affairs and Trade, attends a news conference after a government reshuffle, in Stockholm, Sweden, May 25, 2016. TT News Agency/Jonas Ekstromer/via REUTERS/File Photo ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. SWEDEN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SWEDEN. NO COMMERCIAL SALES.

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden will side with the rest of the European Union in talks with Britain about leaving the bloc, the Swedish minister for EU affairs and trade said on Tuesday, ending any hope Britain would get any special favor from one of its closest EU allies.

Britain is Sweden’s fourth biggest trading partner and the two countries have often seen eye to eye on such issues as free trade and reforms within the EU.

But the statements by Ann Linde show how allies like Sweden may prefer to move closer to the EU rather than jeopardize the union by being too soft on Britain.

“For us, as close as possible relations with the UK is what we prefer,” Linde told Reuters. “But it is more important that the EU as such is functioning at its absolute best and effective way.

“If the UK will ask to let go of freedom of movement of persons, not pay to the EU budget and not follow the EU court, that will not be a feasible way to conduct negotiations,” she said. “We will not step outside the EU 27 and say - yes, that’s a good idea.

One EU official helping to prepare the negotiations has said he was surprised Britain’s usual Nordic, Polish and Dutch allies had not backed a “soft Brexit” to appease British concerns on immigration while letting it keep access to free trade.

“I’ve actually been surprised that the solidarity among the 27 is so strong,” Linde said. “It’s really strong. I think there is a common view among the 27 how we will do it.

“Our goal is to keep EU27 as effective as it possibly can be. That is our main goal with these negotiations,” she added-

Linde’s stance appeared to differ from that of Swedish Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson, who told Reuters earlier this month, “from our point of view, the softer Brexit is, the better”.

Reporting by Alistair Scrutton, editing by Larry King