German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said he’s ready to give Boris Johnson a refresher on principles of the EU after the British foreign secretary dismissed a key sticking point on Brexit as “baloney”.
“We’ll happily send her majesty’s foreign minister a copy of the Lisbon Treaty”, Schaeuble quipped at a news conference in Berlin alongside Michel Sapin, his French counterpart.
“He can then read about the fact that there’s a certain connection between the single market and the four freedoms. In a pinch, I can talk about it in English.”
Schaeuble, a party ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, was pushing back against reported comments by Johnson in New York that he doesn’t see an “automatic trade-off” between access to the market of the remaining 27 EU nations and Britain accepting the free movement of the union's goods, workers, services and capital.
“Complete baloney,” the Press Association news agency quoted Johnson as saying in New York.
It’s the second time that Johnson was slapped down while attending the United Nations General Assembly. After he became the first member of the Britain's government to say publicly that it’s looking to start formal Brexit in early 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May’s office put him in line within an hour of his televised comments by refusing to back the timeframe.
Schaeuble, Germany’s longest-serving lawmaker and elder statesman, exchanged glances with Sapin before responding to a question about the comments by Johnson, who was named to his post after Britain voted to leave the EU in June.
“I think we both looked at each other because we are both accustomed to a have a high degree of respect for foreign ministers,” said Schaeuble, 74. Sapin said the EU’s so-called four freedoms are “indivisible” and must be respected.
With talks on Britain's future relationship with the EU yet to begin, the bloc’s other 27 governments say Britain needs to accept the right of EU citizens to freely enter the country if it wants access to the EU market, including for financial firms based in Britain.
Longer term, the implications for these firms are significant, given their heavy reliance on the passport that the EU provides to enable them to sell wholesale financial services across Europe without having to set up separately incorporated businesses in individual member states.