Michel Barnier questions ‘level of truth, communications and clarity’ in UK about the impact of Brexit

Former Chief Negotiator’s comments come as new report says economic blow dealt by Brexit will be four times greater in the UK than in the EU.

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

12 Feb 2021

Michel Barnier has said there is “no way” the Brexit deal with the UK will be renegotiated.

Some political figures in the UK have suggested the Withdrawal Agreement may have to be revised in the wake of the recent EU threat to trigger an emergency override clause in the Brexit deal.

The EU quickly backed down after the move sent alarm bells ringing across Belfast, Dublin and London.

Addressing the European Business Summit (EBS) on Thursday, Barnier admitted that European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen’s decision to trigger the so-called Article 16 clause was a “clear mistake” although he added that she had “immediately” backed down and reversed the decision.

Even so, he told the EBS that any possible renegotiation of the Withdrawal Agreement was out of the question, adding, “This is the treaty we agreed to and we now have to implement it.”

“It was clearly a mistake (invoking Article 16) but the Commission President corrected immediately, in fact, three hours later, and I hope it does not happen again.”

 He added, “No one can escape from the consequences of Brexit and that includes the UK. It is the UK that wanted Brexit and we have tried in good faith to organise an orderly divorce.”

“No one can escape from the consequences of Brexit and that includes the UK. It is the UK that wanted Brexit and we have tried in good faith to organise an orderly divorce” Michel Barnier

The former EU commissioner’s comments coincided with reports on Thursday that the economic blow dealt by Brexit will be four times greater in the UK than in the EU.

A month into the new relationship, the European commission said the UK’s exit on the terms agreed by Boris Johnson’s government would generate a loss in gross domestic product by the end of 2022 of about 2.25 percent in the UK compared with continued membership. In contrast, the hit for the EU is estimated to be about 0.5 percent over the same period.

Barnier, whose book on the Brexit negotiations is expected to be published shortly, told the EBS, “We will have to face many human, technical, legal and financial consequences. I repeat what I said on day one, in December 2016, that many of these consequences have not been correctly explained and are under estimated.”

He questioned the “level of truth, communications and clarity” in Britain about the impact of Brexit on business, adding, “This is a problem for the UK.”

Barnier said, “We have already seen some consequences, with businesses moving from the UK to Europe so, no, it cannot be business as usual. There is a political Brexit and also an economic and trade Brexit, but business flows are down from the UK to Europe. That is inevitable and it is what it is.”

“I have not changed my personal belief that Brexit is a weakness for both sides. The EU will be less strong and the UK will be alone in a global world.

“No one has demonstrated the added value of Brexit, not even Nigel Farage when he was in my office. “You can clearly see there is no added value of Brexit but, rather, there are many serious consequences.”

strong and the UK will be alone in a global world.

“No one has demonstrated the added value of Brexit, not even Nigel Farage when he was in my office. “You can clearly see there is no added value of Brexit but, rather, there are many serious consequences” Michel Barnier

His comments came as UK Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič had talks in London on Thursday about current export and border problems between the two sides that has seen a nosedive in cross channel trade.

After the meeting the two officials issued a joint statement in which they said they had agreed to reiterate their “full commitment” to the Good Friday peace agreement, and to the “proper implementation” of the Northern Ireland protocol.

Barnier said, “The two met on Thursday and hope to find a way to implement the protocol. Both parties, the UK and EU, must be conscious of respecting the Northern Ireland protocol.”

He added, “There have already been some attempts to circumvent the new rules (in the Withdrawal Agreement) and, needless to say, we will be very, very vigilant in the coming weeks and months. I recommend everyone to be careful and ask everyone to respect the rules. This is in the common interest of us all.”

He said, “The UK is now a competitor, a third country, and the point is whether the competition between us will remain open, fair and free. I hope cooperation will remain between the two sides and that we will not have to use the tools now available to us to prevent unfair competition.”

He warned, “But we do have reasons to be vigilant. In a few weeks parliament will ratify the treaty and the key point for us is protecting the single market and the stability of the Eurozone. This is a red line for the EU and our main concern is to defend the EU’s interests.”

Barnier, a keynote speaker at the online event also defended the EU’s much criticised vaccines strategy.

“The UK is now a competitor, a third country, and the point is whether the competition between us will remain open, fair and free. I hope cooperation will remain between the two sides and that we will not have to use the tools now available to us to prevent unfair competition” Michel Barnier

When asked how the EU’s approach might have changed had the UK still been a member of the EU, he said, “It is hard to know what would have happened with the UK still around the table, but the UK is seriously impacted as we are by this and I think that had the UK been present it would have also been part of the recovery fund.

Meanwhile, the draft Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and the UK must not open the door to tax avoidance and money laundering, according to a letter sent by members of the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee.

The MEPs are demanding that the Commission “takes a very close look” at tax and anti-money laundering legislation in the UK before granting the British financial sector new access to the European single market for financial services.

Greens/EFA Group co-leader in the European Parliament Philippe Lamberts and German member Sven Giegold said the agreement will not maintain common standards in the fight against tax dumping and financial crime.

Giegold said, “As a Member State, the UK had previously not been on the EU list of global tax havens. Now, however, it is a hot candidate for the list. We therefore call on the Council of Ministers to no longer turn a blind eye and to take a close look at the UK in the next update.”

Before the end of March, the EU and the UK want to set out in a joint Memorandum of Understanding how they want to cooperate in the area of financial services. In particular, this concerns the question under which conditions British financial companies will be granted access to the European single market.

Gielgold added, “We, as a committee, demand transparency from the Commission in the negotiations. We also emphasise that there must be no market access for British companies without the possibility of intervention by the European supervisory authorities.”

The letter was sent to the chairs of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Trade Committees, the two parliamentary committees covering the draft agreement.

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