LONDON The future location of the two European Union agencies based in London will be a matter for Brexit negotiations, the British government's Brexit department said on Monday, but EU officials said there was no doubt they would be moved.
London is home to both the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Banking Authority (EBA), and last month the EU's draft plan for negotiations said arrangements should be made to transfer them to a state staying in the EU.
EU officials said European Council President Donald Tusk, who chairs summits of the 27 other EU leaders who will decide where to put the agencies, aimed to set out some procedures for making the choices by the time they meet next on April 29.
A spokeswoman for the British Brexit department said in a statement: "No decisions have been taken about the location of the European Banking Authority or the European Medicines Agency, these will be subject to the exit negotiations."
"As part of these negotiations the government will discuss with the EU and member states how best to continue cooperation in the fields of banking and medicines regulation in the best interests of both the UK and the EU. It would not be appropriate to prejudge the outcome of the negotiations."
Yet EU officials say there is no question of Britain keeping the EMA and EBA, whatever ties it may keep with the agencies; Only member states could accommodate them, one said, adding: "The agencies are lost. You cannot have your cake and eat it."
In draft negotiating guidelines, issued on March 31 and broadly endorsed by the other 27 national governments last week, Tusk made clear Britain has no say: "The future location of the seats of EU agencies and facilities located in the United Kingdom is a matter for the 27 member states."
He added: "Arrangements should be found to facilitate their transfer." To that end, an EU official said on Monday, Tusk would propose procedures and criteria for making the decision on location this month. Leaders of the 27 meet in Brussels a week on Saturday to finalise their opening negotiating positions.
Securing the headquarters of EU agencies is a traditional blood sport at summits, where fierce national arguments have been the rule before decisions are taken. Most of the 27 have expressed an interest in hosting both the EMA and EBA.
EU officials doubt final decisions can be made in the coming months but say leaders do want to ease uncertainty for existing staff and allow time for recruitment and new infrastructure in other cities before Britain leaves the Union in March 2019.
Earlier this month the EMA's executive director told Reuters it was preparing to pack its bags and relocate and called for a quick decision on the agency's new home.
The EMA, which approves and monitors the safety of drugs across Europe, employs nearly 900 staff, while the EBA, which coordinates EU banking rules, has 160 staff.
(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan in London and Alastair Macdonald in Brussels; Editing by Alison Williams)