EU chief negotiator Barnier says ‘the clock is ticking’ on Brexit deal

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European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier talks to Ireland's Foreign and Trade Minister Simon Coveney during an EU's General Affairs Council in Brussels, Belgium, February 27, 2018. (Reuters)

European Union chief negotiator Michel Barnier said “time is going by” on Brexit negotiations to agree on transitional arrangements and said the EU will not accept UK’s suggestion to stick to rules of its preference after it exits the bloc.

The European Union’s chief negotiator said Britain was running out of time to agree to a transitional deal with the European Union on its departure from the bloc, if it wanted to avoid a cliff edge Brexit – an exit with no divorce deal.

Michel Barnier said there were “significant points of disagreement” on the post-Brexit transition period, which the EU wants to end at the end of 2020, adding that London was looking to keep it open-ended.

The EU wants a deal on Britain’s future relations with the bloc agreed by October, so EU leaders can approve the whole deal at a summit and launch the ratification process in the 27 remaining EU members.

Barnier said London was looking to keep it open-ended, though British officials said their request had always been for a “strictly time-limited” adjustment period after Brexit.

European Commissioner for Better Regulation, Inter-Institutional Relations, the Rule of Law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights Frans Timmermans speaks during a joint press conference with Bulgarian Vice premier minister and Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva after a General Affairs Council meeting at the EU headquarters in Brussels on February 27, 2018.
European Commissioner for Better Regulation, Inter-Institutional Relations, the Rule of Law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights Frans Timmermans speaks during a joint press conference with Bulgarian Vice premier minister and Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva after a General Affairs Council meeting at the EU headquarters in Brussels on February 27, 2018. (AFP)

“Worried by the time”

Britain is due to become the first country to leave the EU in March 2019 and failure to agree on transitional arrangements would rob firms of the clarity over trade and customs policies they need to make investment decisions.

“The clock is ticking, time is going by, we are pressed for time,” Michel Barnier told a news conference a day before presenting the remaining 27 EU states with what he said would be a 120-page draft legal agreement on Brexit.

“I am worried by the time, which is short between now and autumn. In a few months, we will have to agree with the United Kingdom about their orderly exit from the European Union as they wish,” he said.

Bulgarian Vice premier minister and Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva speaks during a joint press conference with European Commissioner for Better Regulation, Inter-Institutional Relations, the Rule of Law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights Frans Timmermans after a General Affairs Council meeting at the EU headquarters in Brussels on February 27, 2018.
Bulgarian Vice premier minister and Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva speaks during a joint press conference with European Commissioner for Better Regulation, Inter-Institutional Relations, the Rule of Law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights Frans Timmermans after a General Affairs Council meeting at the EU headquarters in Brussels on February 27, 2018. (AFP)

Customs union a sellout

His comments came as British Trade Minister Liam Fox said the opposition Labour party’s plan to stay in a customs union with the EU would leave Britain in a worse position than now and would be a sellout of Britain’s national interests.

For his part Barnier stressed some areas have seen little, or no progress since December, listing outstanding issues around safeguarding the rights of citizens, among others.

He repeated that the EU would not accept cherry-picking during any transitional arrangements, dismissing suggestions in London that Britain could stick to EU rules post-Brexit in some areas, diverge moderately in others and go its own way for the rest.

“We are responsible for the integrity of the single market,” Barnier said. “We cannot accept the risk of regulatory divergence during the transition period.”

He said the EU would push ahead with contingency planning for the island of Ireland for want of concrete ideas on how to reconcile Britain’s desire to leave the EU’s single market and the customs union, with pledges to avoid a hard border between the British province of Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.

The EU’s fallback option for Ireland assumes “full regulatory alignment” would be kept between the two after Brexit and Barnier said his text on Wednesday would propose workable solutions.

Source: Reuters