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Barnier: No frictionless trade outside of single market and customs union

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator states the obvious… again. And Jeremy Corbyn has a meeting with him next week.


In a speech to the European Economic and Social Committee in Brussels today, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier re-stated the EU’s red lines:

  1. free movement of persons, goods, services and capital are indivisible. And single market participation requires accepting all four freedoms;
  2. there can be no “cherry-picking” so no sector-by-sector participation in the single market; and
  3. the EU must maintain full regulatory sovereignty.

There is nothing new to see here but he made the points again because, as he said “I am not sure whether they have been fully understood across the Channel”.

Here’s a reminder of what Barnier said on the EU’s priorities for negotiations back in December:

Michel Barnier: 4 priorities for EU in Brexit negotiations

Referring to the UK government’s own red lines: no free movement; UK to pursue its own trade deals and an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, Barnier noted that these made it impossible for the UK to stay in the single market or customs union.

What he doesn’t add (but probably already understands) is that as well as the government not fully understanding the EU’s red lines, it doesn’t seem to fully understand its own red lines. This is especially the case for Theresa May’s red line on the ECJ. As James Blitz in the Financial Times reports, it’s this red line that makes it even more difficult for the UK to agree the comprehensive free trade agreement it wants. It also makes it difficult for the UK to continue to participate in EU bodies such as Euratom and the European Medicines Agency.

For clarity, Barnier also uses the UK’s own words

Perhaps more usefully for both the Tory and Labour party, Barnier responded directly to statements made by them about what a future UK-EU relationship could look like.

He said:

I have heard some people in the U.K. argue that one can leave the single market and build a customs union to achieve ‘frictionless trade’ — that is not possible.

In the Tory government’s Brexit white paper, it said “the government will prioritise securing the freest and most frictionless trade possible in goods and services between the UK and EU”. However, it also made it clear that the UK would leave the single market so that free movement would end. The government also said it would seek new customs arrangements outside of the customs union. The government has been clear that the UK should be able to pursue its own trade deals outside of the EU so cannot remain in the customs union.

Barnier also said:

I have heard some people in the U.K. argue that one can leave the single market and keep all of its benefits — that is not possible.

Meanwhile, the Labour party has also insisted Brexit means free movement would end and this therefore means the UK will have to leave the single market. However, in its election manifesto, it said it would put jobs and the economy first by seeking to retain the “benefits of the single market and customs union”.

By making direct references to statements made by UK politicians, the EU chief negotiator couldn’t be clearer that he does not see the goal of either party as realistic. Whether the Tories or Labour are listening is another question…

You can read Barnier’s speech in full at europa.eu. And Buzzfeed also has a very good summary of it – particularly useful on its explanation of why only membership of both the single market and customs union can lead to “frictionless trade”.

Jeremy Corbyn to meet with Barnier next week

In what could be an interesting meeting, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is due to meet with the EU chief Brexit negotiator next week. Bloomberg reports that Corbyn will outline his party’s issues in an “extended meeting” with Barnier on Thursday.

Speaking to Bloomberg, Corbyn said the single market requires EU membership so was incompatible with Brexit (this isn’t quite true as you can also be an EEA member and not be in the EU as well have single market membership). Corbyn added that what was key for the Labour party is tariff-free access for both goods as well as services. He said they would press for that access but did not say whether they would pay for it or what they would do to achieve it. You can see the interview in the video below from Bloomberg.


Image: © Toms Norde, Valsts kanceleja – Flickr
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