Michel Barnier says Brexit agreement is “within reach”

Speaking in Plenary on Wednesday, the EU’s chief negotiator said that “an outline is emerging” and that progress could be made in the next few days on the basis of legal texts.

By Lorna Hutchinson

Lorna Hutchinson is Deputy Editor of The Parliament Magazine

21 Oct 2020

The EU is ready to intensify Brexit talks with the UK “day and night if that’s what's needed to reach a draft agreement that will leave enough time for democracy.”

This was the message of Michel Barnier, who underlined that the EU will seek “the necessary compromises” on both sides as time runs out to conclude a deal.

Barnier said that last week’s European Council was “a key juncture for this negotiation” as it underscored to the UK that the EU wants a deal.

“We want a deal that will be mutually beneficial, in respect of the autonomy and sovereignty of both sides; a deal reflecting a balanced compromise. But there will not be a deal at any cost.”

“May I remind you that the European Union’s attitude in this negotiation has in no way shifted, and it will not shift, not up until the very last day, not even then; we will remain calm, constructive, and respectful. But we will also remain firm and determined when it comes to defending the principles and the interests of each of the EU Member States and the European Union itself.”

“We will seek the necessary compromises on both sides in order to do our utmost to reach an agreement. We will do so right up until the last day that it's possible to do so, our door will always remain open right up until the very end.”

“We will remain firm. We’re ready to discuss all subjects on the basis of legal texts. We’re here to negotiate an agreement, an international treaty, and that’s a legal document.”

“We will seek the necessary compromises on both sides in order to do our utmost to reach an agreement. We will do so right up until the last day that it’s possible to do so; our door will always remain open right up until the very end” Michel Barnier, EU chief Brexit negotiator

Barnier said that his team was “fully prepared to travel to London from Monday this week, to keep working.”

He said that the framework set out for this “ambitious agreement” will not change, adding, “we want a deal that’s going to uphold the integrity of the Single Market.”

“We’ve heard the red lines stated by Boris Johnson on the role of the European Court of Justice, on the legislative autonomy of the UK, and on fisheries. And, for several months now, we’ve worked constructively around the negotiating table to look at how these British red lines might align with our own principles and interests, with the aim of reaching an agreement.”

“Despite the difficulties we’ve faced, an agreement is within reach. If both sides are willing to work constructively, if both sides are willing to compromise, and if we’re able to make progress in the next few days, on the basis of legal texts, and if we’re ready in the next few days to resolve the sticking points, the trickiest subjects.”

“Because time is of the essence and time is running out, each and every day. That’s why, along with our British counterparts, we must endeavor to find solutions to the most difficult areas.”

Barnier pointed out that over the past few weeks progress had been made with the UK on law enforcement cooperation, including protecting human rights, Europol, Eurojust, data protection and other areas, adding, “so there is an outline emerging for this deal on these points.”

“We’re also moving forward on transportation, the UK has agreed to a specific level playing field when it comes to that - in particular on road transportation -  the UK will be participating in some significant European projects such as Horizon and Erasmus, and there’s also thematic cooperation as well: public health and cybersecurity.”

“Despite the difficulties we’ve faced, an agreement is within reach. If both sides are willing to work constructively, if both sides are willing to compromise, and if we’re able to make progress in the next few days, on the basis of legal texts” Michel Barnier, EU chief Brexit negotiator

In conclusion, Barnier said, “Our door remains open – it will remain open right up until the last day where we can work together. We’re willing to do intense work, to intensify talks day and night if that’s what's needed to reach a draft agreement that will leave enough time for democracy.”

“It takes two to reach a deal and an agreement needs to be reached – that’s what this is all about. We’re not sure if that is the outcome that we will obtain, and that’s why we need to be ready to deal with the consequences of a possible no-deal scenario.”

Also speaking in the plenary debate, European Council President Charles Michel quoted former UK Prime Minister Theresa May by saying, “Brexit means Brexit.”

“But Brexit also means making choices about our future relationship. We want a deal, but not at any cost. The European Council was extremely clear – we are one hundred percent united.”

Michel noted the “extremely difficult issues” of the level playing field, governance and fisheries, adding, “and we need solutions in line with our principles.”  

On fisheries, Michel said, “Brexit was not our decision, and it was not our fishermens’ decision. Stopping access to UK waters would cause extraordinary damage to our fishing fleets. Yes, we want to keep access to UK water for our fishermen, exactly like the UK wants to keep access to our huge and diversified markets for its companies.”

“The UK wants access to our Single Market, while, at the same time, being able to diverge from our standards and regulations when it suits them. You can’t have your cake and eat it.”

He concluded by saying, “Time is very short and we stand ready to negotiate 24/7 on all subjects, based on legal texts. So the UK has a big decision to make; it’s their free and sovereign choice and we will always respect them, whatever choice they make. But that sovereign answer will determine the level of access to our internal market, this is just common sense.”

“We want a deal which is fair and balanced, but we are also ready in case of No Deal.”

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