Donald Tusk has said Brussels’ Brexit negotiating guidelines show "we do not want to build a wall between the EU and Britain".
The European Council president struck a conciliatory – but at the same time realistic – tone on the possible future relationship between Brussels and London as he unveiled his draft guidelines for the negotiation of post-Brexit ties.
Mr Tusk said: The UK will be our closest neighbour and we want to remain friends and partners after Brexit – partners that are as close as possible, just like we have said from the very first day after the referendum.
The guidelines are due to be rubber-stamped by leaders of the remaining 27 EU states at a summit later this month, paving the way for talks on the future relationship to commence.
But while the guidelines make clear that the EU desires as close as possible a partnership after Brexit, it is expected that there will be negative economic consequences.
The European Council restates the Union’s determination to have as close as possible a partnership with the UK in the future, the document says.
Such a partnership should cover trade and economic co-operation as well as other areas, in particular the fight against terrorism and international crime, as well as security, defence and foreign policy.
But the text continues: At the same time, the European Council has to take into account the repeatedly stated positions of the UK, which limit the depth of such a future partnership.
Being outside the customs union and the single market will inevitably lead to frictions.
Divergence in external tariffs and internal rules as well as absence of common institutions and a shared legal system, necessitates checks and controls to uphold the integrity of the EU single market as well as of the UK market.
This unfortunately will have negative economic consequences.
The guidelines warn there can be no cherry-picking of particular sectors, like financial services, participating in the EU’s single market.
The free trade agreement on offer cannot offer the same benefits as membership and cannot amount to participation in the single market.
And Mr Tusk said that while Brussels wants an ambitious FTA with the UK, it will not make trade between the UK and EU frictionless or smoother.
He said: It will make it more complicated and costly than today for all of us. This is the essence of Brexit.
Prime Minister Theresa May has committed Britain to leaving the EU’s single market and customs union and ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
Mr Tusk said these red lines meant the only possible option for a trade deal was an agreement similar to the one the EU signed with Canada.
I hope that it will be ambitious and advanced and that we will do our best, as we did with other partners such as Canada, he said.
I propose we aim for a trade agreement covering all sectors and with zero tariffs on goods.
Like other FTAs, it should address services and on fisheries reciprocal access to fishing waters and resources should be maintained.
This positive approach doesn’t change the simple fact that because of Brexit we will be drifting apart.