- Michel Barnier warns Theresa May’s plans for the UK to leave the single market and customs union means “border checks are unavoidable”
- Barnier insists under Conservative government’s new plans a new border in Ireland will be necessary too.
- Barnier warns the EU may not agree to a transitional period to reassure businesses and iron out difficulties if disagreements persist.
- Pound plunges further on world market after Barnier’s speech.
- Michel Barnier and David Davis in war of words.
Just weeks away from the March deadline the EU has given the UK to explain what sort of Brexit it wants, its chief negotiator warned reporters that without clarity and agreement there may not be a transitional period to avoid a no deal Brexit cliff edge causing economic chaos.
“I don’t understand some of the positions of the United Kingdom,” complained the EU’s chief negotiator at a press conference today.
Michel Barnier contradicted Brexit Secretary David Davis claims this week that negotiations were going well, complaining of a lack of clarity from the British government.
And he explained that a transitional period to iron out a Brexit trade deal which has not even started to be negotiated yet without causing too much upheaval is “not a given.”
Barnier warned that first the British government had to come to an agreement with the EU in crucial areas.
The EU Chief Negotiator explained that if the Conservative government’s position had changed from the previous guarantee of some sort of customs union like harmonizing that would guarantee no new hard border across Ireland, then a hard border with customs checks would be “unavoidable” along the hundreds of miles of countryside between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
This would obviously jeopardize the Good Friday peace deal in Northern Ireland and never be sanctioned by the Irish government which is a major stumbling block for any Brexit deal.
“Any solution must be precise, clear and unambiguous,” explained Barnier.
“Once again, it is important to tell the truth. A UK decision to leave the single market and to leave the customs union would make border checks unavoidable.”
Barnier added that to avoid the need for border checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland if the UK do not want a customs union with the EU, perhaps just Northern Ireland could stay within the customs union.
But the DUP have made clear that they would not stand for any difference between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, and Theresa May’s government have made clear that this is not an option.
There are other disagreements which persist and could jeopardise a transitional period to reassure markets and avoid a sudden economic cliff edge.
These include the EU’s insistence that if Britain breaks the conditions of a transition agreement, the EU could respond with trade sanctions without having to resort to a lengthy European Court of Justice process.
The British government has also insisted that the UK should be able to choose which EU policies to opt into during a transition period as well as opting out of new EU laws imposed during the period. The Government is also demanding that the rights of EU citizens coming to the UK during this transition period before the UK leaves the EU may be restricted.
The pound fell rapidly following Barnier’s speech to journalists.
David Davis was quick to respond, accusing the EU representative of wanting to “have it both ways.”
“Given the intense work that has taken place this week it is surprising to hear that Michel Barnier is unclear on the UK’s position in relation to the implementation period,” responded the Brexit Secretary who has been in an increasingly fraught war of words with his EU counterpart.
“As I set out in a speech two weeks ago, we are seeking a time-limited period that maintains access to each other’s markets on existing terms.
“However for any such period to work both sides will need a way to resolve disputes in the unlikely event that they occur.
“But there is a fundamental contradiction in the approach the Commission is taking. Today they acknowledged that a way to resolve disputes and infringements is needed. Yet at the same time, they dismissed the UK’s push for reasonable safeguards to ensure our interests are protected. It is not possible to have it both ways.”
But Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer warned: “This should be a wakeup call for the Prime Minister.
“As Labour has said for months, it’s vital the Government secures sensible transitional arrangements to prevent a cliff-edge for our economy.
“Yet with just a few weeks until the March deadline, it’s clear the Government is no closer to reaching an agreement.”