STRASBOURG, France (Reuters) - Britain's minister in charge of leaving the European Union told a leading EU lawmaker on Tuesday he wants to keep strong ties to the bloc's single market but the parliamentarian warned that the UK must exit the Union entirely, without special deals.
EU leaders have insisted Britain can retain membership of the lucrative single market only if it sticks by all its rules, including accepting free movement of workers and oversight by EU courts, both things Prime Minister Theresa May has said voters rejected in the June referendum vote to exit the bloc.
Manfred Weber, an ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel who leads the conservative group in the European Parliament, told reporters after meeting Brexit Minister David Davis in Strasbourg that he had heard "no new ideas on ... what Brexit really means".
"On the contrary, it was proposed to me today that on the economy, the British government wants to stay in the internal market," Weber said, adding that Britain also wanted to keep ties in many other areas, including crime and justice affairs.
"I see a British government that keeps saying where it wants to cooperate closely and not how it wants to leave the European Union. So I must stress again: Brexit means Brexit, that means leaving the European Union, that means cutting off relations ... and not cherry picking, not special relationships."
Davis told Reuters that his talks with Weber, whose group is the biggest in the parliament, and with the legislature's own Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt had focused on discussing the process for negotiations and not the substance of future talks.
Asked if he aimed to preserve single market membership, Davis said: "What we are after is that which is in the interest of the Union and in the interest of the United Kingdom: trading interests, business, manufacturing and services and the aim is to make it as open as possible ... That's the clear overarching aim."
Pressed on whether Davis explicitly said membership of the single market was his goal, Weber told reporters: "It's not easy to check for the moment what the British interest is really ... They have a strong interest to keep a kind of a relationship to the single market, to keep strong ties to the single market.
"How they want to do this, I think that's still open...There is a structure that they're discussing among them(selves)."
(Reporting by Alastair Macdonald in Brussels; editing by Mark Heinrich)