Britain running down the clock in Brexit talks, says Michel Barnier | Politics

Michel Barnier has suggested the UK is running down the clock in talks over the future trade and security relationship with the EU.

The claim by the bloc’s chief negotiator during a virtual press conference at the end of a difficult week of videoconference talks was swiftly denied by the government.

A UK spokesman instead openly questioned the value of the deal being offered by Brussels when compared with a no-deal outcome.

“We regret that the detail of the EU’s offer on goods trade falls well short of recent precedent in free trade agreements it has agreed with other sovereign countries,” the spokesman said. “This considerably reduces the practical value of the zero-tariff, zero-quota aspiration we both share.”

After five days of videoconference talks, involving a total of 100 officials, the prospects of an agreement by the end of the year seemed remote as the two sides emerged from the negotiations to attack each other.

Barnier appeared exasperated by the British team, led by David Frost, who has said the UK will leave the single market and customs union with or without a deal by the end of the year.

He accused the UK of preventing progress in the talks, adding it was unacceptable to “impose this short, brief timeline, and at the same time not budge or make progress on some topics that are of importance to the EU”.

“The UK cannot refuse to extend the transition, and at the same time slow down discussions on important areas,” Barnier said.

Asked whether the EU could request an extension if the British did not, Barnier said it was not up to one side to be the “demandeur” (seeker), but it had to be a common decision for both parties before 30 June, as stated in the withdrawal agreement.

“It’s too early from our side to express an opinion on this subject,” Barnier said, adding that the European commission would assess the situation in early June. The transition can be extended by up to one or two years by mutual agreement.

The two negotiating teams have been conducting only the second full week of structured talks since the UK left the EU on 31 January. A UK spokesman confirmed there had been “limited progress” and criticised the failure of the EU to recognise the British government’s red lines. Barnier in turn cited four areas where progress had been “disappointing”, including on a deal for future trade in goods.

Barnier said the EU’s offer of zero-tariff, zero-quota access to its market in exchange for respecting social, environmental standards and state aid rules would give the UK unprecedented access to the European market.

But he said the UK had “failed to engage substantially on this topic” and had even “denounced” the basic premise of fair competition.

“It argued that our positions are too far to reach an agreement,” Barnier said. “It also denounced the basic premise that economic interconnectedness and geographic proximity require robust guarantees.”

Throwing back the often-repeated words of British negotiators, Barnier noted the disparity in size between the two sides.

“The UK negotiators keep repeating that we are negotiating as sovereign equals,” Barnier said. “That’s fine, but the reality of the negotiations is to find the best possible relationship between a market of 66 million consumers on the one side of the channel and the market of 450 million consumers on the other side. That is the reality.”

Barnier added that devising such level playing field commitments had been agreed as a necessity “with Boris Johnson in our joint political declaration”, ratified at the time as the withdrawal agreement.

After 47 years and 30 days it was all over. As the clock struck 11pm on 31 January 2020, the UK was officially divorced from the EU and began trying to carve out a new global role as a sovereign nation. It was a union that got off to a tricky start and continued to be marked by the UK’s sometimes conflicted relationship with its neighbours.


The French president, Charles de Gaulle, vetoes Britain’s entry to EEC, accusing the UK of a “deep-seated hostility” towards the European project.


With Sir Edward Heath having signed the accession treaty the previous year, the UK enters the EEC in an official ceremony complete with a torch-lit rally, dickie-bowed officials and a procession of political leaders, including former prime ministers Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas-Home.
Lisa O’Carroll


The UK decides to stay in the common market after 67% voted “yes”. Margaret Thatcher, later to be leader of the Conservative party, campaigned to remain.

‘Give us our money back’

Margaret Thatcher negotiated what became known as the UK rebate with other EU members after the “iron lady” marched into the former French royal palace at Fontainebleau to demand “our own money back” claiming for every £2 contributed we get only £1 back” despite being one of the “three poorer” members of the community.

It was a move that sowed the seeds of Tory Euroscepticism that was to later cause the Brexit schism in the party. 

The Bruges speech

Thatcher served notice on the EU community in a defining moment in EU politics in which she questioned the expansionist plans of Jacques Delors, who had remarked that 80% of all decisions on economic and social policy would be made by the European Community within 10 years with a European government in “embryo”. That was a bridge too far for Thatcher.

The cold war ends

Collapse of Berlin wall and fall of communism in eastern Europe, which would later lead to expansion of EU.

‘No, no, no’

Divisions between the UK and the EU deepened with Thatcher telling the Commons in an infamous speech it was ‘no, no, no’ to what she saw as Delors’ continued power grab. Rupert Murdoch’s Sun newspaper ratchets up its opposition to Europe with a two-fingered “Up yours Delors” front page.

Black Wednesday

A collapse in the pound forced prime minister John Major and the then chancellor Norman Lamont to pull the UK out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism.

The single market

On 1 January, customs checks and duties were removed across the bloc. Thatcher hailed the vision of “a single market without barriers – visible or invisible – giving you direct and unhindered access to the purchasing power of over 300 million of the world’s wealthiest and most prosperous people”.

Maastricht treaty

Tory rebels vote against the treaty that paved the way for the creation of the European Union. John Major won the vote the following day in a pyrrhic victory. 

Repairing the relationship

Tony Blair patches up the relationship. Signs up to social charter and workers’ rights.


Nigel Farage elected an MEP and immediately goes on the offensive in Brussels. “Our interests are best served by not being a member of this club,” he said in his maiden speech. “The level playing field is about as level as the decks of the Titanic after it hit an iceberg.”

The euro

Chancellor Gordon Brown decides the UK will not join the euro.

EU enlarges to to include eight countries of the former eastern bloc including Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

EU expands again, allowing Romania and Bulgaria into the club.

Migrant crisis

Anti-immigration hysteria seems to take hold with references to “cockroches” by Katie Hopkins in the Sun and tabloid headlines such as “How many more can we take?” and “Calais crisis: send in the dogs”.

 David Cameron returns with reform package.

Brexit referendum

Britain leaves the EU

In response a UK spokesman said there would be no progress until “the EU drops its insistence on imposing conditions on the UK which are not found in the EU’s other trade agreements and which do not take account of the fact that we have left the EU as an independent state”.

A second problem area, Barnier said, was the UK’s insistence that the future relationship should be made up of a series of separate agreements rather than a single deal with a single arrangement for ensuring compliance by both sides.

A third area of “serious difficulty”, he continued, was the UK’s refusal to put into the future treaty that the UK will remain a signatory of the European convention on human rights or recognise the role of the European court of justice in protecting EU citizens’ data when flowing between the bloc and the UK.

“This creates serious, serious limitations for our future security partnership,” he said. The UK has said it would be unprecedented for a deal to include a commitment to remain part of the ECHR.

“We made no progress on fisheries,” Barnier said of a fourth problematic issue. “On this essential topic the UK has not put forward a legal text. We have made no tangible progress. Despite the political declaration stating that we should make our best endeavours to reach an agreement by July.”

He added: “The EU will not agree to any future economic partnership that does not include the balanced, sustainable and long-term solution on fisheries,” Barnier said. “That should be crystal clear to the UK.”

The UK spokesman warned that Brussels had to accept that the status quo of the common fisheries policy would not endure but that legal text setting out the British paper could emerge in the coming weeks to aid progress.

“The EU’s mandate appears to require us to accept a continuance of the current quotas agreed under the common fisheries policy,” the spokesman said. “We will only be able to make progress here on the basis of the reality that the UK will have the right to control access to its waters at the end of this year.” The negotiations are scheduled to continue on 11 May.

Source link