May’s Brexit Smoke Signals Won’t Sway EU, Dombrovskis Says

  • European Commission vice president says formal notice needed
  • U.K. must stick to its EU obligations until it leaves bloc

European Union policy makers aren’t attempting to read anything into signals sent by Theresa May and the rest of the U.K. government on Britain’s future relationship with the bloc and are just waiting for an official communication, an EU Commission vice president said.

“The European Commission will probably not be interpreting the U.K. government,” Valdis Dombrovskis said in an interview. “It’s for the U.K. government to set out its position and come forward with a formal notification and once this is done, then we’ll be able to start proper negotiations.”

Valdis Dombrovskis in Washington.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

While Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond tried to woo Wall Street last week by insisting that “the government is a pro-business government,” his words came after tough talk by others in May’s cabinet about plans for strict limits on immigration, including a controversial proposal to force companies to reveal how many foreign workers they employ.

That measure would harm the economy, more than 100 leaders of small and medium-sized U.K. businesses said in a letter to the Daily Telegraph newspaper on Monday. They said the ability to hire both British and non-British people “has historically helped business grow.”

Negotiations with the EU will begin once the U.K. triggers Article 50 of the bloc’s Lisbon Treaty, something May said she will do before the end of March. The prime minister is then expected to set out the U.K.’s economic and trading relationship with the EU.

‘Structural Challenges’

Whatever the British government decides to do, it cannot restrict EU citizens’ ability to live and work in the country while still a member of the bloc, said Dombrovskis, in Washington, where he attended the International Monetary Fund’s annual meetings.

“One thing is clear,” he said. “While the U.K. remains a full member of the EU, it remains a full member with all the rights but also with all the obligations.”

Dombrovskis, who oversees financial and economic policy at the Brussels-based commission, said that alongside Brexit, making the European economy more resilient and pushing nations to open up labor markets were strong themes at the IMF gathering.

“Monetary policy can buy time for member states to deal with structural challenges,” he said. While several countries were making their economies more competitive, this still “isn’t at the speed we would expect.”

— With assistance by Alex Morales

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