EU rejects three-pronged British approach to new ties after Brexit
The European Union would not agree to a post-Brexit deal in which Britain would stick to the bloc's rules in some areas, diverge moderately in others and go for distinctively different solutions for the rest, sources in Brussels said.
EU officials and diplomats were reacting to a London idea of "managed divergence", or "a three-basket approach", as Prime Minister Theresa May's government yesterday was convened for a session to decide what sort of future relationship with the bloc it wanted.
May told a 2017 policy speech in Florence that "there will be areas which do affect our economic relations where we and our European friends may have different goals; or where we share the same goals but want to achieve them through different means".
"And there will be areas where we want to achieve the same goals in the same ways, because it makes sense for our economies," she said.
But documents presenting the EU's position and comments by sources in the bloc's political capital Brussels on Thursday made clear the remaining 27 states do not like the idea.
"This is kind of a cherry-picking, which I don't believe is acceptable," one EU official said.
The bloc has been pressing London for several months to come forward with its ideas for ties with the bloc after Britain leaves in March 2019 and after an adjustment period of about two years ends.
"When we try to convince Prime Minister May to come forward with her vision of the future, I don't think the three-basket approach is what we have in mind," a senior EU diplomat added.
"We frankly cannot make sense of all the ideas Britain has floated because many of them are inconsistent."
The EU says Britain cannot have a selective access to its single market or customs union, saying the more rights it will have vis-a-vis the bloc in the future, the more obligations it must accept as well.
Britain hopes to seal a deal in March with the EU 27 on the post-Brexit transition.
However, the bloc has warned it may not that reach an agreement without an idea of the two sides' future ties, a solution to the conundrum over the border with EU member Ireland and an agreement on the bloc's top court whose jurisdiction Britain wants to escape.
Britain on Wednesday suggested an open-ended transition - depending on how long it would take to agree a future trade deal with the EU - but the bloc also rejected that, saying it was sticking for now to its plan to wrap things up at the end of 2020.
The bloc also doubts that is enough to agree a comprehensive future trade deal and expects that time to drag out. It is not giving Britain a later date as yet, however, as a way to put pressure on London in the negotiations.
For the same reason, EU officials and diplomats have also sent conflicting signals on whether they would still present their joint stance on their future deal with Britain in March, regardless of whether London offers some lines on that, or not.