European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen told the World Economic Forum on Wednesday that the UK and the EU will always remain “friends”—but warned that the country’s level of access to the European single market will depend on how it aligns itself with EU rules.
“There is a difference whether you are a member state or not where access to the single market is concerned, so the closer the United Kingdom is to the European Union, the better the access to the single market,” von der Leyen said.
“If it is the UK’s choice to be more distant to the European Union, well then there will be more distance to the single market, where ... free movement to free movement of goods, services and capital is concerned.”
Klaus Schwab, founder of the annual WEF gathering of business leaders in Davos, Switzerland, asked von der Leyen if Brussels would be able to implement all of its ambitious sustainability plans since it needs to spend so much time and energy dealing with Brexit.
The Commission chief noted that the EU has been dealing with “the phenomenon Brexit” for the past three-and-a-half years, but that its Brexit task force is separate from the daily business of the Commission.
She said that a large amount of the Brexit legwork has already been accomplished, pointing to the EU and UK parliaments’ approval of the Withdrawal Agreement. She said that for the European Union, the big hurdles of citizens’ rights and “peace on the island of Ireland” were satisfactorily solved.
“It was very important for us to have clarity on citizens’ rights: We have 3.5 million European citizens living in the UK, and 1.2 million British citizens living in the European Union,” she noted. The financial agreement is also fine, she added.
“We have on top the so-called political declaration, which is kind of a describing the road map we want to go on together and we will work day and night to get that done,” she said.
“We have to sort out this very clear thing—access to the single market—there is a condition: Either you align and accept the rules or you are more distant—this is the UK’s choice.”