Sweden’s foreign minister says she believes there’s still a chance Brexit could be called-off and the UK could remain a member of the EU.
Speaking at the start of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Austria, Annika Soder said she was following British polls closely and sensed “hesitation” among voters over Brexit.
“We hope that we can find a way forward to have a soft Brexit because a hard Brexit wouldn’t serve anyone,” she told journalists as she arrived.
“But still, and this may be not very polite, we hope there can be a solution where the UK still be in Europe.
“Negotiations are important and Mr Barnier and his team are working hard to find a good solution. So, we will not give up on a soft Brexit even if that tiny hope is still there.”
Asked explicitly if she wanted the UK to remain in the EU, she replied: “Wouldn’t that be a good idea.”
Soder stopped short of endorsing a second referendum, saying the Swedish government didn’t want to interfere in British politics.
But she was clear that the EU and Sweden still “want to have the UK as a partner.”
In response, Conservative MP Nigel Evans, a prominent Vote Leave campaigner, said Soder should focus on Sweden’s upcoming elections rather than British politics.
Brexit was not formally on the agenda for the meeting of ministers but was inevitably raised on the sidelines given the looming deadline for a deal.
The meeting was being hosted in Gymnich, Austria, because the country is chair of the European Council until the end of the year.
Austria’s foreign minister Karin Kneissl, who recently got married at a ceremony at which Russian president Vladimir Putin was a guest, was more upbeat about Brexit than her Swedish counterpart.
“I’m convinced that there were much worse times in British history,” she said. “I’m very confident that Britain and the continent will overcome that and will hopefully start a solid, new working relationship.”
She said she finds comfort in difficult times from history and compared Brexit to Britain’s break with Rome under Henry VIII.
“That was also the beginning of global Britain under his daughter Elizabeth,” added Kneissl.
Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt is using the summit to discuss Brexit with the half of his continental counterparts he hasn’t visited since taking over from Boris Johnson on July 9.
He said: “Our priority here is to make sure there is political will on all sides.
“We believe it is possible to come to an agreement. We think that is in the interest of the EU as well as the UK.
“But it’s going to need a huge amount of effort in the weeks we have now left to us.”