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12/15/16

The Brexit Fallout - EU leaders sing from same Brexit hymn sheet - hy Katya Adler

So much said. So little known.

As Europe editor I'm often asked about the EU point of view - but Europe is waiting first and foremost to get a clear idea from Britain as to what kind of Brexit the government definitely wants.

In the meantime, one message alone emanates loud and clear from European capitals and Brussels HQ, centred round an idiom that will forever now be Brexit-linked in my mind.

The words "cherry picking" popped out of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's mouth just last week, the same day they were intoned, with charming French accent, by Michel Barnier, the European Commission's Brexit negotiator.

The mantra is that the UK (despite protestations to the contrary by the British foreign secretary) will NOT be allowed to break EU regulations by staying in the European single market while refusing to accept "freedom of movement" - the automatic right of EU citizens to live and work in the UK.

"There is no organisation in the world that will let someone say: 'I will follow this rule of yours but I won't follow that one'," Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told me when I interviewed him just now in Stockholm, ahead of an EU leaders' summit.

Cherry-picking is körsbärsplockning in Swedish, by the way.

And Mr Lofven said Britain definitely wouldn't be allowed to indulge in it when talks to thrash out a new EU-UK trade deal begin.
Raw self-interest

Sweden is one of the UK's closest EU allies: it is business-minded, Brussels-sceptic and non-eurozone nations.

Britain is also Sweden's fourth largest trading partner, so a good Brexit deal is in its interest.

So, was there really no wiggle room, I asked. Couldn't the Swedish prime minister push for a favourable deal?

Mr Lofven said he had offered Theresa May to act as a mediator - "play a practical role" as he put it - but, he insisted, the UK would still have to aim for the best deal possible within the boundaries of EU laws.

Otherwise, he said, there would be no European Union, as other countries would head for the exit door too, preferring their own bespoke EU arrangement.

And that is at the heart of European leaders' cherry-picking hymn sheet: not EU-fervour but raw self-interest.

Read more: EU leaders sing from same Brexit hymn sheet - BBC News

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