Brexit Ultimatums Will Backfire on the U.K., Sweden Warns

  • Says U.K. can’t get as good conditions when outside of EU
  • Sweden supports EU calculation of EU60 billion fee for U.K.

Ann Linde.

Photographer: Jonas Ekstromer/AFP via Getty Images

Taking a hard line in Brexit negotiations will hurt the U.K.

That’s the message from Sweden, one of Britain’s closest allies in the European Union, just days before Prime Minister Theresa May triggers Article 50 and starts negotiations to leave the bloc after more than four decades of an ambivalent relationship.

Ann Linde, Sweden’s EU affairs and trade minister and the woman representing Scandinavia’s biggest economy in Brexit talks, says the U.K.’s negotiating tactics are damaging its chances of getting a good deal. She also says the EU is showing a surprising degree of unity in its approach.

“They have been really tough on the U.K. side,” Linde said in an interview in Stockholm on Friday. “That’s a position they have chosen, but it doesn’t make it easier to have constructive discussions when the point is to reach an agreement.”

Sweden had adopted a relatively conciliatory stance toward the U.K. after Britons voted to leave the EU in June. The country stands to lose a lot if talks break down since the U.K. is its third biggest export market outside the Nordic region, behind Germany and the U.S.

But Sweden’s government is now warning the administration in London that it can’t expect a deal that provides the benefits other members enjoy without also accepting some costs. What’s more, any agreement struck can’t be allowed to leave Britain in a better position than remaining EU members, Linde said.

“There’s no doubt about that,” Linde said. “They shouldn’t get as good conditions when they’re on the outside as when they’re on the inside. The EU will never accept that they only pay for the goodies, but avoid things where we have a shared responsibility.”

Sweden also opposes the U.K.’s goal of negotiating a trade deal alongside other issues such as the rights of EU citizens in Britain. Linde said she “supports” the EU’s calculation of a 60 billion-euro ($65 billion) fee that Britain should pay for past commitments to the bloc, a provision she says ought to be negotiated before any trade pact.

Linde underscored Sweden’s opposition to any U.K. plan to turn itself into a tax haven and and said it’s important that the two sides decides on who should arbitrate in trade disputes. 

“The U.K. has so far been very, very tough” in stipulating “that the European Court of Justice shouldn’t be allowed to be the judge in disputes,” Linde said. “That’s absolutely central to the functioning of the EU, not least when it comes to trade.”

According to Linde, Sweden will do everything in its power to make sure divorce proceedings are finished on time, so that the two sides can then start negotiating a trade deal. But she made clear that the onus is on the U.K. to show flexibility.

They keep “using the mantra ‘better no deal than a bad deal’ and they repeat that they’re prepared to leave if they don’t get a good deal, and in such a situation the WTO rules would kick in immediately” after the deadline of the divorce negotiations on March 29, 2019, Linde said.

“There is no back-up plan,” Linde said. “That would be the end” and very bad for both sides, she said.

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