Brexit

Luxembourg Finance Minister, UK Brexit Vice-Minister met secretly

According to Luxembourg's finance ministry, the meetings were initiated by the British side.
Photo: Gerry Huberty

By Christoph Bumb

The UK's Vice-Minister for Exiting the European Union, David Jones -- not to be confused with Brexit-Minister David Davis -- was in Luxembourg to meet secretly with some of its political leaders, including Finance Minister Pierre Gramegna. This emerges from information obtained by 'Luxemburger Wort'.

The meetings took place three weeks ago, on April 24, when Jones was staying in Luxembourg. The agenda of his stay in Luxembourg included meetings -- of which the general public was unaware -- with the finance minister, members of parliament and representatives of Luxembourg's financial sector.

It seems the meetings were not publicly announced or even withheld from the general public for good reasons. In principle, the EU had agreed to speak with one single voice during the Brexit negotiations.

All 27 EU member states, including Luxembourg, explicitly agreed to avoid going it alone. The official position of Luxembourg's government was: no bilateral pre-negotiations, no cherry picking.

Bilateral talks vs unity of EU-27

The timing of the meeting is also very unfortunate. It took place only days before the EU summit at which the member states agreed on a joint strategy for the upcoming negotiations about Britain's exit from the European Union.

Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said during that summit: ''I hope we can keep this unity, because unity is our strength.'' If everyone was only looking out for their own interest and playing the parties against each other, there can only be losers in the end, Bettel said.

The EU's guidelines for the Brexit-negotiations, adopted unanimously by the European Council on April 29, do not leave much space for interpretation either.

''Negotiations under Article 50 TEU will be conducted in transparency and as a single package. (…) Throughout these negotiations the Union will maintain its unity and act as one with the aim of reaching a result that is fair and equitable for all Member States and in the interest of its citizens,'' the document states.

David Jones, Minister of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union, was in Luxembourg to attend a meeting of the EU's General Affairs Council.
Photo: European Council

It furthermore says: ''The Union will approach the negotiations with unified positions, and will engage with the United Kingdom exclusively through the channels set out in these guidelines and in the negotiating directives.

''So as not to undercut the position of the Union, there will be no separate negotiations between individual Member States and the United Kingdom on matters pertaining to the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the Union.''

British initiative

The exact content of the discussions between Finance Minister Gramegna and Brexit-negotiator Jones during their meeting is unknown. The finance ministry confirmed to LW that the meeting took place.

''Pierre Gramegna met David Jones on April 24 following an initiative by the British ambassador. The ambassador was present as well. The discussions included an exchange of views on the situation after Brexit and the pending negotiations,'' a spokesperson for the ministry said.

The finance ministry went on to say that the government has always maintained a regular dialogue with the British government, and that this did not change because of Brexit. Before the EU guidelines were adopted on April 29, British government officials had ''increasingly sought bilateral contacts with a number of European governments without flagging this to the media.''

''Private meetings'' with politicians and finance lobby

The UK's Department for Exiting the European Union also confirmed the April 24 meeting to LW. David Jones, the Minister of State for Exiting the EU, was staying in Luxembourg to attend the EU's General Affairs Council meeting on Tuesday, April 25. According to a spokeswoman, Jones used his stay for a number of ''private meetings'' with different interlocutors.

According to LW information, these ''private meetings'' included -- next to the meeting with the finance minister -- exchanges of views with members of parliament. Among them were the president of the foreign affairs committee Marc Angel of the socialist party, CSV's Laurent Mosar, Vivian Loschetter and Claude Adam of the Green party, and ADR's Fernand Kartheiser.

Finally an informal dinner with politicians and representatives of Luxembourg's finance sector and fund industry rounded off the meetings.

The concerned parties denied to comment on the question of the possible political impact of this secret meeting related to the upcoming Brexit negotiations.

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