BERLIN Access to the European Union’s single market means accepting the bloc’s basic freedoms, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said on Wednesday, rejecting suggestions from London that Britain could retain full EU market access while curbing immigration.
Some British politicians who advocated a Brexit have suggested Britain could have full EU market access, including for the vital financial sector, while limiting the number of EU nationals who enter the country. The EU’s single market seeks to guarantee the free movement of goods, capital, services, and people between the EU’s 28 member states.
Britain and the EU will not start negotiations on their future relations before London had officially filed the application to leave the bloc, Schaeuble told a news conference.
“But one thing is clear: membership of the internal market means that one has to accept the basic freedoms in Europe,” he added.
“And this had to be painfully learned in Switzerland after a referendum (on limiting free movement of people) … That’s how it is,” he said when asked by Reuters if there was any scope for a compromise that would give Britain access to the internal market while allowing curbs on the movement of people.
Switzerland is not an EU member, but home to more than a million EU citizens. In 2014, Switzerland voted to impose quotas on migration, potentially ripping up a bilateral deal with the EU on free movement of people. It could trigger a “guillotine clause” cancelling six other bilateral agreements, including on air transport, road, rail and agriculture.
The Swiss government sees few ways out and, in what could be a warning to Britain, may have no choice but to ask voters to reconsider.
Britain has not yet activated the Article 50 clause in the European treaty that triggers the process for its departure from the bloc, and Schaeuble said it could not be compelled to do so: “Nobody can force Britain to submit this application,” he said.
Schaeuble said fluctuations in the British pound, which tumbled to a new 31-year low on Wednesday, could be discussed at a meeting of finance ministers and central bank chiefs from the G20 leading economies in China later this month.
But he added: “I think at the G20 meeting in China the Brexit issue will come up more under the topic of geopolitical risks.”
(Reporting by Gernot Heller and Michael Nienaber; Writing by Paul Carrel)