The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator warned the United Kingdom on Thursday (6 July) that ending talks without a comprehensive agreement would only worsen the already complex situation, contrary to London’s oft-repeated stance of ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’.
Addressing the European Social and Economic Committee (EESC) in Brussels, Michel Barnier, the chief negotiator and former internal market Commissioner, also told London that there should be no illusions about being able to have “frictionless trade” if the UK leaves the single market and the customs union.
But he said he was not sure the implications “have been fully understood across the Channel”.
“I’ve heard some people in the UK argue that one can leave the single market and keep all the benefits. That is not possible. I’ve also heard some people in the UK argue that one can leave the single market and build the customs union to achieve frictionless trade. That is not possible,” Barnier told the EESC.
“You cannot leave the single market and then opt into the sectors you like most. There can be no sector-by-sector participation in the single market… Leaving either the single market or customs union will mean goods cannot move freely across the borders,” he said, recalling that the World Trade Organisation baseline rules would then have to be applied.
The bloc and the UK started negotiating in June the terms of the UK’s withdrawal and its future relationship with the EU, focusing on London’s financial obligations, the rights of EU and UK citizens living abroad and the border with Northern Ireland.
Barnier has stressed that time is of the essence.
“March 2019 is 20 months away and time does fly. Whatever the outcome of the negotiations, my message is that the real transition period has already started,” Barnier told the EESC, referring to Britain’s triggering of Article 50 on 21 March.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May has repeatedly said that “no deal is better than a bad deal” for Britain. But Barnier said the catchphrase did not reflect the reality of a no-deal exit.
“In reality, no deal would worsen the lose-lose situation, which would necessarily be the result of Brexit. I think the UK would have rather more to lose than the partners. In my mind there is no reasonable justification for a ‘no deal’ scenario.
“There is no reason to further worsen the consequences of Brexit. That is why we want a deal. A balanced deal, a fair deal is far, far preferable than no deal”.
Finally, Barnier said that the remaining 27 member states had reached “very strong and solid unity” in preparing for the negotiations and Britain’s exit and were already looking to the post-British future.
“The future of Europe is much more important than Brexit. Let’s prepare for Brexit but we are preparing for the future of Europe”.
In a concrete example of the difficulties Britain may face in ‘taking back control’, Barnier said the UK’s plan to withdraw from a fishing convention that gives European fishermen access to its waters would have little immediate effect. He insisted that EU law and its common fisheries policy had already superseded the convention.
The UK said this week it would start a two-year process of leaving the London Fisheries Convention, signed in 1964, which allows vessels from France, Belgium, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands to fish within six and 12 nautical miles off the UK’s coastline.
UK denunciation of London Convention=no change: EU law/Common Fisheries Policy had superseded it. EU 27 interests=my priority for negs
— Michel Barnier (@MichelBarnier) July 2, 2017