Europe News

EU cannot compromise on freedom of movement in Brexit talks: leaders

European leaders pose for a family photo during a European Union summit - the first one since Britain voted to quit - at the Bratislava's castle in Bratislava, Slovakia, September 16, 2016. REUTERS/Yves Herman

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - There can be no granting Britain access to the European Union’s single market unless London also accepts the freedom of movement of workers that lies at its foundation, the EU’s top officials said on Friday after an EU summit in Bratislava.

“We want to have very good, very close relation with the UK. At the same time, it is not possible for these negotiations to damage our interests,” the head of the executive European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker told a news conference.

“Concerning the freedom of movement of workers and of persons ... we are sticking to that position and this is not a game between prime ministers leaving and prime ministers remaining, this is about people in Europe,” Juncker said.

“So I cannot see any possibility of compromising on that very issue,” he said.

The chairman of the EU summit Donald Tusk said divorce negotiations with Britain should be held only after a notification from London and should be run in the interest of the remaining 27 countries of the bloc, rather than Britain’s.

“It’s absolutely clear that our procedures, our rules, described very precisely in our treaties, are to protect our interests, of the 27 countries, not the leaving country,” Tusk told a news conference in Bratislava after the first meeting of EU leaders with Britain after the June 23 Brexit referendum.

He also reiterated that talks with Britain cannot begin without a formal notification by the British government. He added that British Prime Minister Theresa May told him that talks may be formally triggered in January or February.

Reporting by Francesco Guarascio and Jan Strupczewski