police expect that number to rise significa ntly. fire crews have not yet been able to search all 2a storeys. 78 people have been treated in hospital, 18 are in critical condition. grenfell tower housed around 500 people, some had repeatedly raised concerns about fire safety. they say their warnings over a recent refurbishment and possible safety risks were ignored. checks are to be carried out across britain on similar tower blocks. president trump is being investigated for possible obstruction ofjustice according to the washington post. the move by special counsel robert mueller, if confirmed, would mark a turning point in the investigation into russian interference in last year's presidential election. now on bbc news, hardtalk. welcome to hardtalk. i'm stephen sackur. the recent uk general election was supposed to strengthen
the british government's hand in the looming brexit negotiations. instead, it backfired spectacularly. theresa may is a weakened prime minister at the head of a minority government ill—prepa red for the complex, difficult talks that lie ahead. my guest is deputy prime minister of belgium, alexander de croo. does europe view britain's travails with sympathy or relish? alexander de croo, in brussels, welcome to hardtalk.
thank you. there you sit as a senior minister in a european government and, as luck would have it, in the institutional capital of the european union. be honest with me, how much attention do you pay to what is happening in british politics right now? well, we do pay a lot of attention to what is happening there, because we know that the discussion on brexit is one where time is of the essence. we have a two—year period to negotiate a good deal with the united kingdom, but three months have gone already and the time is ticking. so we are ready to go to the table to have a good negotiation, but i think now the moment has come to really start talking, to get beyond the theatrical rhetoric and to get down to business. you say that, if i may say so, with such gentility,
but i get the sense that frustration is creeping into the european position. i can quote to you geeva hostadt the eu parliament chief participant negotiator in the expected brexit talks, who also happens to be a former leader of your political party in belgium. he said this, on twitter, just a few hours ago. "we are waiting impatiently for a negotiating position of the uk government. the current uncertainty cannot continue". do you share that degree of frustration? well, i share the degree of impatience. because, look, we have looked at this election, and i have two reactions. one reaction is i'm reassured, reassured because the whole idea of negotiating an unnecessary hard
brexit, i never understood why this would be to the benefit of the uk citizens or the european citizens. and what i see here is that there is no majority mandate for the negotiation of a hard brexit. that, i think, is a good thing. the other element is that i'm preoccupied, because, as i said, time is of the essence. we only have two years for very, very difficult negotiations. i think we have to be very clear on this, there is nobody in brussels who is wanting to punish the uk government or the uk citizens. i think the uk citizens have punished themselves already enough, with political instability, with a disunited kingdom, with a sterling which is falling and which is increasing, for example, the cost of going on holiday on the continental europe. i think we've seen enough drawbacks,
we are ready to negotiate and to go for a good deal. i guess that is music to the ears of many in britain, that you do not see this in any sense to be a form of punishment. but you have maybe inadvertently just entered the most sensitive areas of the british debate right now, about what brexit means. because after this election there is no clear sense from the new parliament, as it is made up today, of where a majority lies in terms of what kind of brexit is wanted. you say there is clearly no majority for hard brexit, but many people in britain say there is no such thing as a soft brexit. brexit means that we in britain have decided we are not prepared any longer to accept the free movement of people or the jurisdiction of the european court ofjustice. we want to govern our own affairs and take control, and that is brexit. you can call it hard, you can call it soft, you can call it half—baked, but brexit is brexit. so we should get to the table.
mr barnier has had his first meetings, has sent out the first position paper of the european union. let's be clear. we are ready to negotiate, and we are ready to negotiate any type of deal that the united kingdom wants. we have received a letter that says we want to divorce. if one of the partners says they want to divorce, well, that is something that we should accept. now, what is a problem today is that we get a letter saying we want to divorce and that the same time we hear that actually we want to remarry because we want to create some kind of working relationship with the european union. i think before talking about getting remarried we should be clear on the elements, on the principles of the divorce. so that is a clear element of negotiation. first we discuss how to divorce
and after that we discuss what is the way going forward. i continue to be convinced that despite the brexit, the uk citizens and the european citizens continue to have more interests in common than interest that would be against each other. let's talk about the specifics of the divorce agreement as you see it in a moment. just on this issue of time, you talk about michel barnier, the commission's chief negotiator for brexit, he says it is extraordinary, nothing has happened, three months after you took the decision to trigger article 50, we've had no negotiations, no sense of what the british government's negotiating position is, and somebody has calculated that's more than 12% of the entire two—year period in which this deal is supposed to be done has already disappeared. so is it time for people like you, senior politicalfigures in europe, to say it is obvious this is not
going to get dealt with? it's not going to get negotiated in two years, and we already have to start talking about extending the deadline. are you prepared to say that today? no. i think we should get started. there was a question for a mandate to negotiate. that mandate was supposed to be strong and stable. well, the elections have taken place, let's get to the table. i don't think that we europeans should be in a position tojudge what the position will be of the united kingdom. hang on a minute. you can't ignore reality. you know that theresa may is not strong and stable. you in belgium know better than anybody that democracy often throws up extraordinarily difficult results, which do not allow for stability. that's where we happen to be today in britain, like it or not, and you are going to have to live with that, just as the british people are. it may require a second election soon. but you can't say we demand
coherence and stability and a strong government position in britain if it's simply impossible. but we do not demand anything. there has been a request for brexit. this was not something that the rest of europe had asked for. but the united kingdom is a sovereign country and makes its own choices. a letter referring to article 50 has been sent three months ago. it's true that we have been waiting for the last three months, but let's forget about why this happened. what is important for me is that we get to the table and that we start talking. that we start talking about negotiating a good deal. a deal will not be done in two years. would you at least agree on that? well, to figure it out, we should at least start. up to now, what we have heard too much is rhetoric about hard brexit, soft brexit, about being generous, one relating to another. for me, it is hard to understand what is really meant by that.
at some point we just need to get to the table and start negotiating. and the message from michel barnier is quite clear. the european union is ready, the clock is ticking, so let's get to the table and let's start talking. but barnier has already said that he thinks the first thing and the only thing that can be on the agenda at the beginning of the price, the divorce costs, before you get to any negotiation of a new and different future deal between britain and the eu. he has talked of 60 billion euros, others have talked of up to 100 billion euros. you must realise that politically, theresa may, more than ever, is not in any position to sign off on those sorts of sums of money as a sort of compensation package for the eu. it is just politically impossible. 0n principle, the moment you leave a club, i think it is quite normal i think it is quite normal when you leave a club that
you settle the bills. if you will not settle the bills in leaving the club, it basically means that somebody else is going to pay the bill. how fair would that be to the other european citizens, to say, you know, in the end you're going to pay the bills for someone who, on one side, has decided to leave the club? i think there also i've seen those numbers ranging from 60 billion euros to 100 billion. let's get to the table. let's put the bills on the table and let's look at what is the most reasonable way of getting to an agreement there. then we will go further. 0k. that's talked about the bill. i don't want to get too bogged down in detailed specifics, but there is a very live debate after the uk election, a very live debate about whether cross—party consensus in the uk can be found for the notion that we actually tried to stay inside the european
single market, but negotiate an unprecedented sort of get out clause that would ameliorate the difficulties britain has with the freedom of movement of labour. can you imagine such a one—off special deal being offered to britain? stay in the single market, but get some concessions on freedom of movement? look, i think in general, we are open to negotiate deals ranging from, on one side, being part of the single market, but you have to understand that when you want to be part of the single market, it also means that you respect the four freedoms. that is the movement of people, capital, goods and services. and of course you also accept the authority of the european court ofjustice and the european commission. deputy prime minister, you are ignoring my question. can you imagine a bespoke, tailored deal which allows britain some. . .
i don't know how one could put it, opt—out or leniency on some of those four pillars that you have just outlined? i think it is hard to do cherry picking. the european union is not a supermarket where you can go in and say, you know, this is the one ingredient i want and all the rest of it, i do not want to be part of this. being part of the single market is of course one choice that can be made, but there are certain consequences to that, of course. and if this is what the uk negotiators want to negotiate, let's get to the table and exchange views on that. there is an opposite view, which is the hard brexit, where you basically say that you do not even want a customs union. but up to now, for us europeans and for the european chief
negotiator, it is unclear what the option is that will be brought to the table. let's at least be clear on what you basically want, and then we can discuss it. see, one thing which theresa may's negotiating team was insistent upon before the election, and some of them are still saying, but not all of them, is that in the end, from britain point of view, no deal is better than a bad deal, and they are ultimately prepared to walk away from the table to get to the two—year deadline and, in a sense, fall off and eu cliff and have britain outside the eu with no negotiated trade deal. now, it seems to me that there is no question, even for those to advocate that position, that it would be damaging to the uk economy. but have you considered just a damaging it would be to the eu economy as well? notjust because you wouldn't get this payoff that you want of a 100 billion euros of divorce settlement, but also the impact on european
trade, on european growth, you can't afford for that to happen, can you? honestly h o nestly we honestly we have to take a step back and see as politicians why are we doing ourjobs? and see as politicians why are we doing our jobs? we and see as politicians why are we doing ourjobs? we are doing our jobs because we want to create an environment that is good for our citizens, which creates prosperity for our citizens, which creates security and peace for our citizens and what i would want to avoid is this whole brexit discussion is about political parties, is about governments and so on. i do not think that aiming for a no deal would actually be something which is in the interests of the security of the british and european citizens. and i think from a uk perspective, there's a choice to be made. we live in a global world. and i think in a global world at some point you have to make an evaluation and say, who are my allies?
who is the person i see as an ally? is donald trump an ally? is vladimir putin an ally? is angela merkel an ally? or is emmanuel macron an ally? i think we are in europe quite clear — i would go with angela merkel and emmanuel macron any day. but it's a choice that the united kingdom has to make. do you believe that putin and trump are allies or do you believe that the ones who live 100 kilometres away are actually the most credible ally in a world which is more chaotic than ever? a very interesting perspective and i want to come back to some of those global points you've just made because i don't want this entire interview just to be about britain, that wouldn't be right given your position in europe. but a final quick point on britain. in your heart of hearts, do you think it is still entirely possible that britain will actually reverse its decision and decide it doesn't want to leave the european union? who am i tojudge? if i would be a british citizen then i have the right to vote
and the right to be part of this debate. i'm not. and i think that this is a choice that has been made in the united kingdom. i believe that no deal would be very bad for the uk citizens and would be bad for the european citizens. i believe that it would be worse for the uk citizen than for the european citizen but being a belgian, a small, open economy who believes in free trade, the majority of our economy is dependent on trade and a large part is dependent on the united kingdom, i believe that this whole obsession with maybe no deal and we go for a hard negotiation, i honestly do not see how this could be to the benefit of the citizens. so i think this is a political debate. but it's too important to make this only a political debate. all right. well, let's lift our eyes to a slightly wider horizon. let's think about where the eu is going now. it seems to me with the success of emmanuel macron in france and he and angela merkel,
and maybe you could tie this to a certain extent to brexit too, losing those difficult, obstreperous brits who keep, you know, dragging theirfeet, macron and merkel are talking about new treaties, about deepening integration in europe both on the fiscal side, on the security side. do you, as a european leader, think that is where the eu is going next? well, first let me answer the first element of what you said in your introduction. i prefer having the brits on the table. because in a lot of topics they were an ally. they are an ally for efficient government, they are an ally in discussions on free trade and very often they were an ally related to foreign policy. yes, but if i may, they are absolutely not an ally when it comes to further integration of the european project. emmanuel macron is now talking about his vision of a finance
minister coordinating fiscal policy across the european union. he, i think it's fair to say, definitely has a vision of a european army, european security and foreign policy, heavily, heavily integrated. britain was never for that. britain is on its way out to the exit. this seems to be the franco—german vision of where to take the european union. well, i think this has been a catharsis moment. i think the brexit was a catharsis moment, but equally so the trump election and equally so the united states leaving the paris climate agreement. i think these are all defining moments and it comes at a moment where there is some new leadership standing up in europe. i believe that the european project is much stronger than some people thought it was. do we need more europe? yes. have you seen the opinion polls? 0pinion polls across europe ask
people, do you want new treaties, more integration, more federal europe? and in belgium, france, germany, hungary, italy, poland, spain, many other countries, the answer is, at the moment, overwhelmingly no. well, let's see how you ask the question. if we look at what are the big themes in the world today — climate change, fighting terror, handling migration. everyone knows that there is no single country in itself who can handle that. and if some people say we want some parts in europe which are less, i could agree. i want less european democracy, definitely. but i want more european integration related to fighting terror. i want more european integration in having a stronger army that works together. yes, i understand there is too much european democracy, bureaucracy, excuse me!
but in working together for certain courses i think we find each other, and i honestly think that in the discussion with the united kingdom we will come back on certain topics. yes, we have to discuss the brexit but when we are fighting terror we have the same interests. and instead of what we see from time to time when there is unfortunate terrorist attacks, trying to blame one another, i would rather put my energy, instead of blaming one another, is saying, 0k, what can we do together? how can we work together to have a better solution? it's interesting to me that in this conversation you have chosen to take a very internationalist perspective and you've talked about worrying trends you see in the united states and in russia and elsewhere. but as a senior member of a government in belgium which is failing to meet some of its most basic international obligations, ijust wonder how strong the ground is that you are currently standing on. for example, in nato terms belgium has an appalling record of failing
to meet the 2% of gdp threshold on defence expenditure. your record is so bad that only luxembourg, pro rata, spends less on defence than you do. and on international aid your own portfolio, your record of trying to get anywhere close to the 0.7% of gdp spent on international aid is terrible. you are at 0.49%. so belgium is not actually stepping up when it comes to those international obligations. well, first of all on defence, our prime minister two weeks ago has been quite clear on the fact that we will step up and we will invest more and i think indeed it is our international obligation to do so. but when we are talking about foreign policy, i think that foreign policy, you have to see it in a broad perspective. if we have had a positive evolution in the world over the last ten years, where has it come from? reason number one is trade.
and when we talk about trade, the european union is second to none related to trade and also related to inward and outward investment. that's all very interesting but you seem to be avoiding my point that belgium has signed up to specific international obligations. let's talk about your own portfolio before we finish. belgium has said that it wants to meet the 0.7% of gdp into international aid but time and again it has failed and you, minister, have been crowing about how you're going to cut the aid budget by another 270 million euros by 2019. i just don't see how you can then sit before me and say, you know, we in belgium are absolutely committed to this internationalist agenda. well, what i wanted to say before you cut me off was the internationalist agenda, in my view, is more thanjust spending criteria on defence and on international aid. yes indeed, in defence we need to step up our investment
and in international development, yes, we need to do investments. but if you look at what today really makes a difference, it is open democracies, it is trade, it is investing in the least developed countries which is something where actually belgium is a country leading the rest of the world. it is too easy to justjudge countries on spending criteria. let's also see what we are doing. minister, we have to end there but i thank you very much indeed forjoining me on hardtalk. my pleasure. hello.
the next 2a hours will bring us some cooler, fresher weather but it won't last long. the warmth will return for the weekend. and we certainly pulled some warmth up from the south during wednesday. 27 degrees was our top temperature at heathrow. thursday, though, is going to be a different feeling day. this cold front pushing in from the west. behind that some fresh air will be introduced. ahead of that it is quite a warm and muggy start to thursday morning, particularly in our big town and city centres. 16,17,18 degrees. and with some sunshine, temperatures in eastern england will rise very quickly through the morning. but here's our weather front, our cold front. a band of cloud and at this stage showery rain, and as that pushes through it will introduce that fresher air from the west. so, by 4pm in the afternoon, south—west england will still enjoy sunshine but the temperature will have dropped off a little bit. still some warmth clinging
on across the south—east and east anglia. 22, 23 degrees here — a mainly fine afternoon across the midlands. we start to encounter showers as we push across northern england, here it will be quite a lot fresher. 16—17 degrees. across scotland there will be cloudy periods, i suspect, with some showery rain. equally bright spells in between and breezy towards the north—west. similar story for northern ireland, some bright spells but large areas of cloud and showery rain. but then we come back to wales where it is fine through the afternoon but the temperatures only getting as high as 17 or 18 degrees. and with that fresher air in place, thursday night should be a little more comfortable for sleeping, i suspect. 11 there in aberdeen, 13 in london. and out in the countryside will be even a little cooler than that. so, quite a fresh start to friday but a bright start with sunshine. however, there will be changes through the day. more cloud into northern ireland, scotland, parts of northern england and north wales, a little bit of patchy rain moving
through as well. and also you will start to notice those temperatures creeping upwards again, and that is what is going to take us into the weekend. this warm front bringing some patchy rain across northern areas but also introducing some warm air from the south. and you will notice an area of high pressure building in from the south as well. so, across england and wales, saturday will not only be warm but a sunny day. 28 degrees there in london. always cooler with showery rain for northern ireland and western scotland. a bit breezy here as well. on sunday the rain really confined to the far north—west. further south and east, quite a lot of sunshine, some humid air in place, temperatures could get as high as high as 30 or 31 degrees. this is bbc news. i'm david eades. our top stories: the search for the missing continues after a huge fire swept through a west london tower block. police say the number of fatalities is likely to rise. it's confirmed at least 12 people died. the washington post claims president trump is being
investigated for possible obstruction of justice in relation to investigations of alleged russian interference in the presidential election. taking on all callers: the russian president, vladimir putin, will be holding his annual television phone—in later today. betting on brighter days ahead. the fed raises interest rates and says it will start unwinding its $4.5 trillion stimulus programme. but is the us economy really out of the woods? plus — roam if you want to.