European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has warned the UK that it can expect “very, very difficult” negotiations with Brussels over its withdrawal from the EU.
Speaking in Strasbourg on Wednesday, he insisted that neither he nor the EU was in a “hostile mood” towards the UK over its planned exit.
Juncker, addressing a news conference in the European parliament, said he had spoken to British prime minister Theresa May on Tuesday evening following her major speech setting out the UK government’s 12 point Brexit programme.
He told reporters, “We want a fair deal for the UK but also a fair deal for the EU as well and I say again that negotiations will not start until we receive the official letter stating that the UK has triggered Article 50.”
He added, “When this happens the UK will have to be considered a third country, something I am very unused to and am also unhappy about. But it is something we will just have to make the most of.”
He touched briefly on May’s speech on Tuesday in which she said the UK would seek to reach a new, unspecified “customs agreement” but would not remain in the single market. She also warned the UK would “walk away” from what she called a “bad deal” for Britain.
When questioned on the use of such language, Juncker said, “I welcome the fact that Mrs May has now given some clarification on the Brexit plans by her government but we will need to see more of the details when the negotiating process starts to unfold and whether they are going the right way or not.”
Juncker was also questioned about the deal brokered by the European Parliament’s centre right EPP and Liberal ALDE groups which paved the way for EPP MEP Antonio Tajani to assume the role of the assembly’s new president.
He said he hoped to continue the “good working relationship” he had enjoyed with the Socialist group in parliament, saying it was important to have the support of “all pro-European forces”.
“In this respect, nothing will change,” he said.
Juncker also poured cold water on the EPP-ALDE proposal for a possible “convention” to be set up to discuss the future of Europe.
The idea was floated in a joint programme drafted by the two groups this week.
Juncker said he was reminded of the constitutional convention created a few years ago which was supposed to pave the way for a constitutional treaty.
“This was not a great success and did not lead to the results we expected. A convention is a useful instrument but no more than that,” he said.
“It is for these reasons that I have my doubts about another convention.”