WASHINGTON – IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said on Thursday that the European Union and the United Kingdom need to show progress in talks on Britain’s exit from the European bloc to ease concerns about the effects of Brexit.
“Brexit is an ongoing process and our hope is that it be conducted promptly to reduce the level of uncertainty and the anxiety of people about the outcome and the situation of people first, of business second,” she told reporters at the International Monetary Fund-World Bank Annual Assembly in Washington.
The official representing the other 27 EU nations in the negotiations with London, Michel Barnier, said on Thursday that given the lack of progress on the initial phase, he would not recommend starting the second phase of the process, which is supposed to focus on the UK’s future relationship with the bloc.
Phase one of the talks was meant to address the “three pillars”: the rights of EU and UK citizens; the operation of the border separating the UK province of Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland; and how much London should pay to settle pending financial commitments to the bloc.
“Better certainty on the three pillars, which are the beginning of the negotiations, would help reducing this uncertainty,” the IMF chief said.
Lagarde said that she could not imagine the UK would depart the EU without any agreement because of the enormous disruption that would entail.
Proponents in the UK of leaving without an accord, known as the “hard Brexit” option, say that London could default to World Trade Organization (WTO) rules to govern commerce with the EU.
“I just cannot imagine that that will happen, because for the people themselves, what does it mean?” Lagarde said. “The Europeans who are based in the UK and the British who are residing in the EU, WTO does not provide for such eventualities.”
Anxiety over Brexit is hurting prospects for economic growth in the UK, she said, pointing to an IMF forecast that the British economy will expand only 1.7 percent this year and 1.5 percent in 2018, lagging behind the other major European countries.