Michel Barnier: EU must brace for no-deal Brexit

Written by Martin Banks on 28 January 2019 in News
News

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has warned that Europe needs to be prepared for a 'no-deal' scenario.

Michel Barnier | Photo credit: Press Association


Barnier, speaking at the plenary session of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) to outline the EU's views on possible changes to the Brexit deal, said that Europe needs to be prepared for a 'no-deal' scenario, adding, “This is more important than ever. Even though I still hope that we can avoid this scenario."

After UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s 585-page Withdrawal Agreement failed to win a majority in the British parliament, with 202 votes in favour to 230 against, the next British Parliament vote on the divorce paper is expected to take place on Tuesday and May has promised to come up with an amended deal.

Several MP amendments have been tabled in a bid to finally reach agreement on the deal.


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During his speech at the EESC, where he was also discussing possible future Brexit scenarios with representatives of European civil society, Barnier said that while it was important to respect the current debate in the UK, his responsibility was to highlight what was at stake.

"While there seems to be a majority in the House of Commons opposing 'no-deal', opposing 'no deal' will not stop it from happening, unless a majority for another solution emerges", he warned.

Whatever the outcome, the representatives of organized civil society will have a decisive role in raising awareness among citizens, he added.

BACKSTOP BIND

During the Brexit debate, EESC members called for a firm stance on the Irish 'backstop', which some highlighted as “being the second-best solution” for Northern Ireland, the first being to remain in the EU.

"While there seems to be a majority in the House of Commons opposing 'no deal', opposing 'no deal' will not stop it from happening, unless a majority for another solution emerges" Michel Barnier

Barnier told the debate that there was no hostility or punishment regarding the negotiations, but that his responsibility was to solve the problems for the EU, adding, "We don't want to use the backstop. It's comparable to your house insurance – you pay it but you wish not to have to use it."

In his speech, Barnier also pointed out that it was the UK that wanted to leave the union and that it was Brexit that was causing problems for Ireland and Northern Ireland.

He argued that the backstop was not about trade and goods but about people who needed security. The border in Ireland was also the border of 27 countries and the border of the single market, he said.

Goods coming from Northern Ireland went to all European countries and this was, therefore, “a European question.”

Barnier cautioned that Brexit had “no added value.”

He also warned not to confuse the consequences with the lessons of Brexit.

“Neither should we confuse populism and popular feelings. The worst thing is silence. We need to speak out; we need to open the debate. We may have different opinions, but must keep talking, because populists use silence against Europe."

NO-DEAL DILEMMA

There was a common agreement during the debate that "no deal" was not desirable since it would be destructive to both the UK and EU.

This was echoed by Arno Metzler, president of the EESC's Diversity Europe group, who said: "As the house of European civil society, our first concern is for the welfare of civil society and citizens. For this reason, on 15 February our group will hold a seminar in Belfast to discuss the implications of Brexit for civil society and the peace process.”

“Whatever future relationship between the EU and the UK finally emerges, we must keep the channels of communication with our British counterparts open. We are there for you today, tomorrow and the day after,” he added.

Employers' group vice-president Stefano Mallia said that "a lot of effort has been made to put together a well-balanced and fair Brexit deal. It is clear that a hard Brexit would be bad for both EU businesses and UK businesses. We ask for one final effort to bring this exercise to a successful conclusion. Of course, the UK must also help itself."

Gabi Bischoff, president of the workers' group agreed that "we cannot allow any illusions but should be prepared for 'no deal'. For the trade unions it is very important that we make sure workers and businesses in the Union are protected as much as possible."

EESC president Luca Jahier congratulated Barnier for his work and underlined that although the UK would become a third country after Brexit, it could never be like other third countries after more than 40 years of EU membership.

Jahier said, "We are strongly committed to UK civil society. The EESC is well prepared for any future scenario and will consolidate its relationship with our British counterparts."

About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at The Parliament Magazine

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