Barnier warns UK that unfair competition will not be tolerated

Web Summit: Trade talks will be a ‘major challenge’, EU Brexit negotiator says

Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, has warned the UK at Web Summit that Europe "will not tolerate" unfair economic competition on its doorstep, if Britain chooses to "pick and mix" EU trading standards post Brexit.

Looking beyond the withdrawal agreement negotiated last month with Boris Johnson’s UK Government, Mr Barnier also warned that the trade talks scheduled for next year will be a major challenge because they are “short” at 11 months, from the end of the January Brexit extension until the UK’s proposed transition period concludes at the end of 2020.

Mr Barnier said the challenges would also be increased because the UK and EU will come at the talks “from different starting points”. But, he warned, the EU will be firm in the trade talks.


“The UK might want to be able to diverge, to pick and mix regarding different economic sectors. But we want a level playing field. The EU will not tolerate unfair competitive advantage,” he said.


Mr Barnier was addressing a large crowd from the centre stage in the Altice Arena in Lisbon, on the first full day of the four-day Web Summit event, run by Irish businessman, Paddy Cosgrave.

To applause from the audience of more more than 10,000, Mr Barnier said that the EU's number one objective post Brexit is maintaining peace in Northern Ireland. This is followed by, he said, protecting the single market, and only then by the objective of building a relationship with the UK.

"Let me be frank. Until now nobody has explained to me the added value of Brexit. Not even Nigel Farage, " said Mr Barnier. "It creates great risks in Ireland. Not just economic and trade risks. We're talking about people. Peace and stability is at risk."

He said, however, that the withdrawal agreement recently concluded with Boris Johnson’s UK administration “brings certainty to the uncertainty created by the divorce”.

“The discussions were at times difficult. We spent five days and five nights together in the same negotiating room. But together we delivered.”

On the UK’s request for an extension to the end of January to pass the withdrawal agreement in the House of Commons, Mr Barnier said: “The UK has asked us for more time. Brexit is a school of patience and tenacity. Ratification is not the end of the story. It is a necessary step. Not a destination.”

Mr Barnier also spoke of their need for the UK and EU to continue to co-operate post Brexit on matters such as ensuring continuity of data protection rules, and combating cyber threats.


Earlier at Web Summit on Tuesday, Irish-born telecoms executive, Verizon group chief executive Ronan Dunne, told the arena that economic efficiencies created by 5G mobile technology could help to solve climate change.

Mr Dunne predicted that 5G would help drive the world’s fourth industrial revolution, or “4IR”, with an entirely new economy based around devices that are remotely connected to other devices.

The Irishman claimed that the so-called 4IR could reverse the climate “damage of the other three”, although it will require a “coalition of the willing” to do so by 2030.

He acknowledged, however, that the tech sector has a “long way to go” to reduce its own carbon footprint.

Mark Paul

Mark Paul

Mark Paul is London Correspondent for The Irish Times