Baltic Officials Say EU Shouldn’t Punish U.K. in Brexit Talks

  • Migrant benefits in U.K. are an issue, Latvia’s Rinkevics says
  • EU’s ‘four freedoms’ aren’t negotiable, ministers say

Latvia’s foreign minister said U.K. concerns about paying benefits to European Union nationals may be warranted, though that doesn’t mean loosening key EU demands in the coming Brexit negotiations.

“I do not believe in punishing Britain,” Edgars Rinkevics said in an interview in Paris on Wednesday. “We can discuss some mechanisms on how to address concerns such as social security and taxes. These are legitimate concerns, but we can’t close borders.”

“We need to find a solution that is affordable and acceptable to all,” said Linas Linkevicius, foreign minister of neighboring Baltic nation of Lithuania. Both commented on the sidelines of a ceremony at the French Foreign Ministry.

Latvia and Lithuania -- former Soviet republics that joined the EU in 2004 -- each have as many as 200,000 citizens, about 10 percent of the population, living in Britain. German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested on Tuesday that the EU should revisit a deal previously struck with the U.K. to curb welfare for immigrants while categorically refusing to consider any exception to the EU single market’s free movement of people.

All remaining 27 EU members are united in upholding that principle and the free movement of goods, services and capital, Linkevicius said.

It’s understandable that U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s government needs time to settle on a negotiating position, Latvia’s Rinkevics said. “It took us seven years to negotiate our entry to the European Union so I understand how complicated it is,” he said.

Even so, “the sooner we get an understanding of what Brexit means, the better,” Rinkevics said.

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