Michel Barnier to MEPs: Trust is key to very tough Brexit talks

Written by Martin Banks on 13 December 2017 in News
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Chief EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has told MEPs that mutual trust will be vital in the second phase of the Brexit talks which are expected to begin early in the New Year.

Michel Barnier | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual


His comments, during a debate in Parliament, come after fierce criticism of the UK government’s perceived lack of trustworthiness in the talks in recent days.

Barnier told MEPs, “Trust is key to our talks. It is more than just a word and we cannot build a future relationship without trust.”

He also told a plenary debate on Brexit that “there will be no transitional agreement if there’s no agreement on Article 50.”


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He sought to respond to questions from several MEPs on the issue of citizens’ rights, telling members that “I will not forget this issue in stage two.”

He added, “We have not reached the end on this matter. It will only be finally done in the withdrawal agreement.”

Barnier also gave an insight into his recent discussions with the British side, saying, “These talks are very tough because the issues are extremely complicated and the consequences of Brexit are very serious.”

Despite some criticism of the UK Prime Minister Theresa May, Barnier described her as “courageous and respectable.”

He said, “I respect her and I hope for an orderly withdrawal, but Parliament will have the last word.”

Several members paid tribute to Barnier and his team for, they say, ensuring the UK meets the EU’s three red lines. 

Even so, Barnier told them, “I am not smug or triumphalist” and warned of even tougher talks ahead.

Polish EPP member Danuta Hübner said, “May has managed to avoid a no deal scenario but there is still a long way to go and we are just at the start of an arduous process.” 

Her Irish group colleague member Seán Kelly welcomed the “very practical and sensible agreement” reached last week by the UK and EU, adding, “No one wants to go back to the bloody civil war in Northern Ireland so I appreciate May’s efforts in difficult circumstances.”

Viviane Reding launched a blistering attack on “the Brexiteers who had promised to take back control,” adding “it is they who are spinning out of control.”

She said, “I feel sorry for the British public for falling victim to political crooks and the result is a weakened and divided UK.”

UK Socialist Richard Corbett said, “I hope the UK government will be better prepared for the second phase of the talks than the first but I doubt it. Despite May finally conceding that citizens do have rights the deal reached last week still leaves them facing uncertainty.  They are left in limbo until the final agreement.”

He said, “Let’s move to the second phase but do not pretend these and other issues have been resolved.”

His fellow UK Socialist MEP Seb Dance said he welcomed “the assurances we have been given today that this agreement under phase one will now be put into a legal text.”

ALDE group member Catherine Bearder told the plenary, “Those who said that the UK government had a plan has proved a lie just like the one on the bus (in which it was claimed leaving the EU would mean millions of euros going to the NHS). Time is running out and we must get on dealing with trade and all the rest. There were three issues to resolve before the next phase, not two and half, and more needs to be done on citizens’ rights.”

Further comment came from Irish member Marian Harkin, also a member of the ALDE group, who said, “It has been said that last week’s agreement must be translated into a legal text and I agree. But we need trust to allow these talks to continue and not be derailed.”

Northern Irish ECR group member James Nicholson cautioned, “We should not underestimate the difficulties that lie ahead. None of us want to return to the borders of the past but the UK is by far the North’s most important market and this must not be jeopardised.”

Greens/EFA group MEP Molly Scott Cato described Brexit as “the Zombie that staggers on” and compared the “stark contrasts” between the two sides.

She said, “The EU has a clear position but by contrast the UK side has not been able to agree a position. But there is still time to step back.”

The SNP’s Alyn Smith said, “I will support the resolution with sadness. Scotland did not want this but, and I say this through gritted teeth, we need to move on now. People need to see what they are going to lose for Brexit to become real. This is the end of the beginning of the Brexit process and I will look forward to the second stage where the Brexiteers will be held to account.”

Ukip’s Gerard Batten told the debate, “The leaving process is in a shambles and the result of the referendum is being betrayed. The UK government must make Brexit happen.”

In a resolution voted on Wednesday, Parliament welcomed the joint Brexit progress report, as presented by EU and UK negotiators on 8 December. The resolution was passed by 556 votes to 62, with 68 abstentions. 

MEPs recommend that the EU27 heads of state or government decide on 15 December to move to phase two.  

 

About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter for the Parliament Magazine

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