BRUSSELS – The nation preparing to take over the European Union presidency says Britain should not count on member states to treat its departure any better than the bloc's chief exit negotiator, who already is seen as extremely harsh in London.
Instead, it could be worse.
Britain voted in June to leave the EU, but terms of the exit still must be worked out.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Foreign Minister George Vella of Malta mentioned no EU nations that would be more lenient during the forthcoming Brexit talks than negotiator Michel Barnier seems to be.
"There are those who are much tougher than that and there are those practically ready to accept what Barnier decides and what he acquires during the negotiations," Vella said.
Half a decade ago, Barnier was reviled in Britain and had a testy relationship with London as the EU commissioner who helped reform the banking sector.
Even though Malta has close historical and cultural links with Britain, Vella said that London should not count on an easy ride during his country's six-month EU presidency, which starts later this month and would overlap with the start of talks.
Britain will have to lose out in the 18 months of negotiations likely to start by the beginning of April, he said.
"We cannot imagine the UK ending up in a position which is better than they are enjoying in membership, so one has to be careful about that because, in itself, if that happens, it would be inciting the other countries to go the same way," Vella said.
At the same time, he acknowledged that Britain was just too much of an economic and diplomatic giant for the EU to turn its back on London completely.