Dutch finance minister 'bewildered' by Brexit specifics
From the World Economic Forum in Davos, Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem tells the FT's Katie Martin that he liked Theresa May's general approach to Brexit negotiations but he is bewildered on the specific terms.
Produced by Daniel Garrahan and Tom Hannen
KATIE MARTIN: We are here in the cold at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Thank you for joining us. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, I hope I haven't butchered your name.
JEROEN DIJSSELBLOEM: I guess.
KATIE MARTIN: Finance minister the Netherlands, thank you so much for joining us, making time for the FT today. We've heard from Prime Minister Theresa May today more about her plan for leaving the European Union. She's very much pushing the message that it's a global Britain. We're not turning our back on Europe. What's your assessment of her approach to the negotiations so far?
JEROEN DIJSSELBLOEM: I like it in general terms, and am a little bewildered about the more specific terms of how it's going to work. So I like what she says. We will be neighbours and friends, and we need to remain trade partners. That's very much in our joint interest. I like when she says Britain will remain an open and globally-oriented country. But then how to get it done, that raises a lot of questions.
KATIE MARTIN: How are we going to marry up these competing forces of what the British voting public wants to see and what works for the European Union?
JEROEN DIJSSELBLOEM: Well, you're asking me. The only thing I can say is I think we need to find a good arrangement, and we need to do it quickly because the uncertainty is already creating economic damage. It's scaring away investors. But I think we're ahead of a difficult negotiation. It's going to take a long time.
The principle choice, we're out. It's a clean break. I can understand and accept that, but that has consequences for trade arrangements. And I don't believe, for example, you can be inside a custom union and have your own trade deals with third countries. That's not going to work.
I also have trouble understanding what the prime minister envisages for the financial sector. The city services all of Europe, so there's a great joint interest. But continental Europe, of course, can't accept that the city has completely different rules and regulations over time. So that needs to be sorted out.
KATIE MARTIN: It needs to be sorted out, but there are some in the UK who see this message that it needs to be sorted out as a threat to the UK, that we are being challenged with threats around how we deal with this negotiation.
JEROEN DIJSSELBLOEM: I'm not in the threatening business. I come from the Netherlands. We have very strong relations with the UK, strong trade relations. I have no interest to threaten or damage the UK'S future. The opposite is true.
Philip Hammond did use a threat when he said, if we don't get a good deal, we will simply become a tax haven just offshore of Europe. That I don't think is realistic. I've listened to Theresa May, and I don't think her message and his message are compatible. And I think that will be really very damaging for the UK and UK-EU relations.
KATIE MARTIN: Yeah, [INAUDIBLE] just here earlier on today was talking about how he very much expects the UK, in or out of the EU, to stick to its international commitments, to G20, to the G7 around not facilitating tax avoidance. What does it mean for the UK's reputation that we're even considering such a move?
JEROEN DIJSSELBLOEM: I think it's very damaging. And I don't think that the people that voted for a Brexit meant it to end up in a very multinational-friendly tax regime. I don't think that the British population wants that kind of a deal. They want a fair tax system where big companies pay taxes, just like the electorate in my country would want. So let's not go there. I think it's unproductive. I think it's damaging. And let's get back on some realistic issues.
KATIE MARTIN: One very quick question, because I know we're out of time. You just touched very briefly on the risk of populist policy. Theresa May was also talking about populist politicians on the far right and left trying to capitalise on disenchantment in various countries and developed countries around the world. How is the Netherlands going to deal with that? Do you feel like you're in a position to resist those sort of forces?
JEROEN DIJSSELBLOEM: I think we will. We have elections in March. And the populist extreme right is doing well in the polls. But in the Netherlands, that means that they are about 20%, so they're nowhere near a majority. And the next government in the Netherlands will still be a coalition government, as always, of moderate parties. That's why we have such a stable climate in the Netherlands. We always have a coalition of moderate parties of the centre. And the extreme right is already excluded from those coalition talks.
KATIE MARTIN: Thank you so much for your time.
JEROEN DIJSSELBLOEM: Thank you.