Merkel’s allies pledge united front on Brexit

ST JULIAN’S, Malta: Pro-European allies of German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday set out a firm line on Britain’s exit negotiations, including an exit bill for London among the main priorities of the EU’s overall stance.
With control of the main EU institutions in Brussels and counting EU negotiator Michel Barnier among their ranks, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) will be one of the most important pressure groups behind the scenes of the talks.
At a two-day congress dominated by Britain’s formal decision to quit the bloc on Wednesday, Europe’s most powerful political family said it will seek to ensure the rights of EU citizens in Britain continue, that Northern Ireland avoids a hard border with Ireland and that London settles its accounts on leaving.
“The exit bill must be paid in full by the United Kingdom,” said Frenchman Joseph Daul, leader of the EPP that is broadly made up of centre-right Christian Democrats.
The party “will not allow the cherry-picking we saw over the past few decades,” chairman Manfred Weber said, adamant that Britain cannot shape the new future relationship in the way London did as an EU member, opting in and out of certain areas.
A possible bill of 60 billion euros ($64 billion) has been mentioned in Brussels since last year, but officials stress it is only a very rough estimate and needs to be discussed in two exit negotiations that are expected to start in mid-May.
To the music of the 1970s hit We Are Family at a luxury hotel in Malta, the EPP pledged not to allow Britain to exploit divisions between centre-right governments during the talks.
Although a now familiar promise by all European Union leaders, it may hold more weight because of the divisions among European socialists, particularly in France, traditionally a twin engine of the European Union along with Germany.
In tatters, France’s ruling Socialist Party is almost certain to lose power in this year’s elections, while the left has lost ground in southern Europe and is not assured of unseating Merkel in Germany’s elections later in September.
“We are united to respond to whatever letters come from London,” said EPP Secretary-General Antonio Lopez-Isturiz. “I challenge the Socialists to have such a gathering,” he said to an audience of hundreds of delegates. “I challenge them to organise a football team.” — Reuters

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