Geert Bourgeois (bottom right) has urged EU chiefs to not punish Britain with a bad Brexit deal
Flemish minister-president Geert Bourgeois has begged Brussels to give Britain a good Brexit deal – and the leader has a key say in Brexit negotiations as terms of free trade agreements with Britain cannot be ratified without the consent from the region.
Trade between Britain and Flanders totalled a whopping £35billion (€42billion) in 2015, with Flemish exports to the UK stands at £22billion (€27billion).
We have to negotiate in parallel over the new agreement so we don’t get a situation where we have to fall back on WTO rules
Any potential tariffs that could be slapped on post-Brexit could severely damage the economy of the region.
Mr Bourgeois said: “A couple of countries are in a punishment project. Some European countries export nothing or close to nothing to the UK, while Flanders will be hit hard by what I call a hard Brexit.
“We have to negotiate in parallel over the new agreement [on divorce and trade terms] so we don’t get a situation where we have to fall back on World Trade Organisation rules.”
Flanders is heavily reliant on trade with Britain
Theresa May has proposed simultaneous divorce and trade deal talks to stop Britain falling out of the EU without an agreement after two years.
Yet EU bigwigs – including Donald Tusk and Angela Merkel – have advocated a move towards settling Britain’s divorce from the bloc before trade talks on any new deal can begin.
The 65-year-old claimed Europe must establish a “trade deal-plus” agreement which would prioritise British industry above other nations outside the Brussels bloc.
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Trade between Flanders and Britain date back to the 12th century, when the Belgium region began to began exporting textiles to the UK.
After Ireland and the Netherlands, Flanders is the region which is most dependent on its trade relationship with the UK, according to officials for the region.
Jan Haspeslagh, chief executive officer of the frozen food transport company Ardo in west Flanders, said: “A drop in purchasing power, we can survive that. That’s not going to destroy the business.
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European Council President Donald Tusk gestures to members of the media as he leaves 10 Downing street after talks with British Prime Minister Theresa May in central London
Theresa May's calls for simultaneous trade and divorce talks with the EU was rejected by Tusk
“But if it becomes a bastion, a ‘fortress UK’ that’s a lose-lose — and we’ll be the first victim of it.”
Hans Maertens, chief of the Flemish network of employers VOKA, told Politico: “It is a historical bond that this region finds difficult to let go.”