UK finance minister refuses to detail Brexit position

With only three days to go before Brexit negotiations kick off, the U.K. has refused to clarify what sort of relationship it will seek with the European Union.

Philip Hammond, U.K. finance minister, dodged three questions from journalists on whether the U.K. will want to retain access to the EU's single market.

"We've set out our position in the speech Prime Minister made at the Lancaster Hhouse earlier this year and in our long and detailed article 50 letter," Hammond told journalists at his arrival for a ministerial meeting in Luxembourg.

In a letter to the EU last March, Prime Minister Theresa May stated: "The United Kingdom does not seek membership of the single market: we understand and respect your position that the four freedoms of the single market are indivisible and there can be no 'cherry picking'."

But May's attempt to increase her majority in parliament were dashed and has weakened the government's negotiating position, with many arguing that May will have to take a softer stance and potentially seek some sort of access to the EU's single market.

Hammond, who reportedly supports the U.K.'s membership of the free-tariff market, told the press that the priority for the talks is protecting jobs.

"As we go into that negotiation, my clear view and I believe the view of the majority of the people in Britain is that we should prioritize protecting jobs, protecting economic growth and protecting prosperity," Hammond said.

A Brussels-based think tank calculated in February that in a scenario in which the U.K. leaves the single market, as many as 300 000 jobs will be lost just in the City of London.

Data released on Monday also showed that the number of EU nurses applying to work in the U.K. dropped by 96 percent since the referendum vote.

"I can confirm as we enter the negotiations next week we will do so in the spirit of sincere cooperation taking a pragmatic approach trying to find a solution that works both for the UK and the European Union at 27," Hammond said Friday.