German minister warns of tough Brexit talks, no discount available

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel speaks during a news conference with his Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias (not pictured) following their meeting at the ministry in Athens, Greece, March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

BERLIN (Reuters) - German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said on Thursday that negotiations about Britain’s exit from the European Union would be tough before getting easier.

“The Brexit negotiations with the United Kingdom that the European Union will lead for us won’t be easy - some people know the saying that ... things will get difficult before they get easier again - that applies to these talks,” said Gabriel.

Gabriel also said that the EU’s remaining 27 states expected Britain to keep to its financial obligations.

“There is in no discount for Britons in the Brexit talks,” he said.

Media reports have suggested Britain may have to pay some 50 billion to 60 billion pounds ($62 billion to $74 billion) to honor existing EU budget commitments as it negotiates its departure from the bloc.

However, Britain’s Brexit minister David Davis said earlier he did not expect this to be the case and added that the time of huge sums being paid to Brussels was coming to an end.

Gabriel also said he expected Brexit negotiations to start from the end of May and reiterated that London would not be able to enjoy the benefits of the EU’s single market while imposing its own controls on immigration.

“We have always rightly stressed that the single market is not an a la carte menu - its four freedoms are inseparable and that includes the freedom of movement of people ... London has understood that,” he said.

Gabriel also stressed in his speech that he wanted Germany to remain on good terms with Britain. “We must stay friends ... maybe apart from when we are on the football pitch.”

Reporting by Madeline Chambers and Michelle Martin; Editing by Toby Davis