By John Irish
UNITEDNATIONS (Reuters) – The European union must negotiate a fair deal for Britain to leave the bloc and avoid at all costs it leaving with no deal, which would have a profound impact on countries like Hungary, its foreign minister said on Monday.
EU leaders were unanimous at a summit in Salzburg last week in saying British Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan for partial membership of the EU’s customs union for goods amounted to “cherry picking,” which the bloc had ruled out.
But some comments by European leaders were widely seen by British newspapers as insulting, especially a social media post by European Council President Donald Tusk of him and May captioned with him offering her cake with “no cherries”.
Speaking to Reuters on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto was more conciliatory, saying the European Commission was in part to blame for Britain’s decision to leave the bloc given it had acted as a “governor” rather than respecting the people’s views.
“We are certain that we need a deal. We have to avoid a situation without a deal by all efforts,” said Szijjarto. “I don’t like this hard or soft categorisation of Brexit. Our approach is we need a fair deal that is mutually beneficial for both sides. We must avoid a situation where there is no free trade agreement between Britain and the EU.”
Szijjarto said the implications of a no-deal and reverting to World Trade Organisation rules would be devastating for commerce and extremely harmful to a country like Hungary that relies heavily on British investment.
He said it also made no sense to discard Britain from key security arrangements or projects like the European Union’s Galileo space programme.
“Excluding them from these operations causes more harm on the European side than we would imagine … A (Brexit) deal is a must,” he said.
Hungary’s relationship with the EU has been tense recently.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who won a third consecutive four-year term in April on an anti-immigration platform, has repeatedly clashed with the bloc’s institutions over issues ranging from tough migration policy to curbs on media freedom.
The European Parliament voted on Sept. 12 to sanction Hungary for flouting EU rules on democracy, civil rights and corruption in an unprecedented move.
“It’s obvious that these debates are because the European institutions would like to carry out revenge on Hungary because of the migration issue,” Szijjarto said.
Despite those differences, he said it made no sense for Hungary to leave the EU given its economic reliance on the bloc, but that Budapest wanted to see changes as the EU was moving away from its heritage.
“We understand clearly that there is an attempt to change the composition of the European population and a clear attempt to move the European Union to a post-national and post-Christian period and this is something that we don’t want,” he said.
(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by James Dalgleish)