Michel Barnier: 4 priorities for EU in Brexit negotiations

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, made his first Brexit press conference today. In it, he laid out the EU’s four priorities for the negotiations. He placed EU unity at the top. He also said that countries outside of the EU could not have the same rights and benefits because they did not have the same obligations. He also reasserted the EU’s position that negotiations could not start before notification and that access to the single market was not possible without the four freedoms.

First, unity. Unity is the strength of the European Union. President Juncker and I are determined to preserve the unity and the interests of EU 27. This determination is shared by all governments.

Second, being in the European Union comes with rights and benefits. Third countries can never have the same rights and benefits since they are not subject to the same obligations.

Third, negotiations will not start before notification.

Fourth, the single market and its full freedoms, its four freedoms, are indivisible. Cherry picking is not an option.”

Michel Barnier

Really, Barnier is only reiterating what has been said before so none of this should come as a surprise. But the fact that they have continued to show consistency and unity in their statements does indicate that they have drawn their red lines. The UK government has so far shown to have rather fuzzy lines.

Less than 18 months for negotiations

Barnier also said that their would be less than 18 months for negotiations. Although Article 50 allows for two years, that timeframe needs to include preparation for the negotiations as well as time to ratify any agreements before that time is up. And if Theresa May goes ahead with triggering Article 50 by the end of March, the terms of the UK’s withdrawal needs to be agreed and ratified by the end of March 2019. Of course, the timing of the triggering of Article 50 also depends on the outcome of this week’s Supreme Court case.

Terms of the UK’s withdrawal & a final trade deal

He also said that he wanted to negotiate the terms of the UK’s withdrawal prior to negotiating a free trade deal. This is in contrast to David Davis who has said that he wanted them to be negotiated in parallel. However, Barnier said that this would be difficult because the timeframe is short. He added the EU needs to hear what the UK wants before they can fully consider how best to progress.

He also noted that an agreement on a future relationship between the UK and EU may be signed with a third country. This could be in reference to the EEA. Non-EU countries who are part of the EEA such as Norway and Iceland are signed up to the European Free Trade Agreement.

A transitional deal

When asked if he was in favour of a transitional agreement, Barnier said that he would if it was a useful path to a new relationship. Again, he noted that third countries might also be affected.

Irish border

Barnier was also asked whether he would rule out a hard border in Ireland. He responded that he was “personally extremely aware” of the importance of this issue and that the EU would work with the UK and Ireland to do their best to “preserve the success of the Good Friday process and retain dialogue there.”

A unified Europe

On the negotiations for a future relationship, Barnier said that it was time to “keep calm and negotiate”. He told the press that his vision of Europe remained the same.

Europe has to be the bedrock on which European citizens can lean in order to push ahead and construct the EU further for their safety, security, defence and prosperity.”

Michel Barnier

You can’t help but admire the class and consistency of the EU’s position so far. It seems rather difficult to say the same of the UK government. For more on Michel Barnier’s first press conference, see the Guardian’s live blog.

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