Brexit: EU says UK ‘closing the doors’ on its negotiating options

Michel Barnier happy to hear if Britain has ‘better ideas’ on how to avoid a hard Border

The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier leaving  a business conference in Brussels on Thursday after delivering a speech. Photograph: Francois Lenoir/Reuters.

The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier leaving a business conference in Brussels on Thursday after delivering a speech. Photograph: Francois Lenoir/Reuters.


The UK is “is closing the doors on itself, one by one” in terms of its Brexit negotiating options, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier warned on Thursday.

Speaking at BusinessEurope Day 2018 in Brussels, Mr Barnier also appealed to the UK to come up with viable alternatives on the Northern Ireland Border.

Referring to the publication of the EU’s draft Withdrawal Agreement on Wednesday, he said “the moment has come to work on operative solutions. Solutions to a problem arising from the UK’s decision to leave the EU, its single market and customs union...”

He said that if the UK “has better ideas on how to avoid a hard border while preserving the integrity of the single market, we are ready to look at them in a constructive way.

“We are not excluding any of the three options we jointly agreed in December on Ireland and Northern Ireland, “ he insisted. “And I expect the UK to do the same.”

Mr Barnier said that with the UK narrowing its own trade relationship options with its red lines “the only possible model that remains” is that of a free trade agreement.

“All of the models remain available, as long as the UK is willing to accept the balance between rights and obligations,” he added.

Mr Barnier’s suggestion is that models akin to Norway’s close relationship to the EU are no longer viable options in the talks. What are left are options similar to Canada’s free trade agreement, which eliminates tariffs on goods and not services.

Among the hard choices to be made, he said, is the extent of its willingness to agree to a close regulatory alignment.

“This is an important choice. Underlying the European regulatory framework are key societal choices that we hold dear: our social market economy, food safety, effective financial regulation, and a precautionary approach to environmental and public health risks,” he said.

“Take the aviation sector as an example: what would EU airlines say if UK companies could operate with an EU licence within the Single Market?

“They would ask several questions: are those companies bound by the same rules on CO2 emissions? Do they have the same rules on working time for cabin crew? The same professional qualifications for pilots?

“The same compensation schemes for passengers in the event of delays and cancelations? The same rules on competition and state aid?”

Meanwhile, Government sources said they had little expectation of fresh proposals from the British prime minister Theresa May when she makes her major Brexit speech on Friday.

Informal contacts from Downing Street to Dublin have suggested that Ms May’s speech is likely to be substantially directed at a domestic British audience, and would focus on the future for Britain outside the single market and the customs union.

Dublin is not expecting any new initiative on the Irish Border to be floated by Ms May. Instead she is likely to focus on the difficult choices facing Britain as it leaves the EU and the inevitable consequences of those choices, according to sources.

The prime minister will say that the UK should have a close economic relationship that goes beyond a standard free trade deal, it is expected.

On Thursday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the time had come for more detail from the British government about how its view of the future trading relationship between the EU and the UK could work.

“The clock is ticking and we really need more detail and a lot more engagement from the UK government,” Mr Varadkar said.

He told RTÉ’s News at One: “I spoke to Theresa May during the week, I expressed my hope that what we’ll hear tomorrow is closer detail. I think 20 months after the referendum in the UK we’re well beyond good intentions and aspirations.”

He said: “We would really welcome now a proposal that wouldn’t force us to use the ‘back stop’ arrangement that would allow us to have a very close trading relationship between all of the United Kingdom and Ireland and indeed all of Europe, but what we need now from the UK government is not aspiration or vision, what we need is something written down in black and white that can be codified into legal text, then we can start to have grown up negotiations about it.”