Michel Barnier says EU ‘managed to hold its nerve’ in reaching eleventh-hour Brexit deal

Barnier, formerly head of the EU’s Brexit negotiating team, also warned that the EU would be “extremely vigilant” in making sure that the UK sticks by the terms of the agreement.
European Parliament Audiovisual

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

28 Jan 2021

Addressing a plenary session of the EESC in Brussels on Thursday, Barnier indicated the EU would not hesitate to act against the UK if it feels Britain is not sticking to the terms of the agreement, adding, “Based on what is happening in the UK we have received alerts from some companies.”

“If there is a potential risk of distortions [on respecting the so-called level playing field] we will be prepared to use the tools in the treaty.”

“On the level playing field there was a lot of reluctance by the UK to start with and the UK repeatedly flagged its sovereignty, but I am pleased to say that we managed to find a compromise.”

While the UK may have won “some new freedoms” after over four years of talks, he warned, “There will be some disruptions but that is one of the unfortunate repercussions of Brexit.”

Speaking online, he said, “I worked at the head of an exceptional team where we had 60 staff from 17 different countries. We worked 7 days a week including, towards the end, every weekend for six weekends in a row.”

“We were totally transparent in the talks, but we had unity and confidence on the EU side.”

He said that at the end of February two new units will be set up in the Commission which will be responsible for following post-Brexit relations with the UK.

“On the level playing field there was a lot of reluctance by the UK to start with and the UK repeatedly flagged its sovereignty, but I am pleased to say that we managed to find a compromise” Michel Barnier

There will also be a “domestic advisory group” to maintain dialogue on Brexit at EU level and, he said, “to ensure close monitoring of this by the Parliament and EESC.”

He cited the issue of fisheries which had threatened to derail the whole talks, saying, “failing to reach a deal on fisheries would have had serious implications because the UK could have excluded us from their waters from day one.”

“We will now maintain the current system although this may change.”

On agriculture, he told the EESC, “There are no quotas or tariffs but we will still need to see over time the consequences of the UK not any longer being bound by EU regulation in this area.”

His comments come amid a bitter vaccines row between the EU and UK and after a year of tense negotiations over post-Brexit trade and security.

In the debate, Bente Sorgenfrey, an EESC member, said, “It is good we have a deal but if you ask fishermen in Europe they are not so satisfied. The UK must comply with current EU standards on labour rights but there is reason to be concerned about this.”

“The EU must be ready to take action if we see any attacks on such things. I hope the EU will use the sanctions in the agreement to go after the UK on this.”

Another Committee member, Jarmila Dubravska, told the meeting, “Trade and fisheries play a big role in the agreement, but agriculture does not seem to play as big a role in the deal even though it accounts for a large part of the EU budget.”

EESC President, Christa Schweng, said, “It will take time to understand the full implications of this deal.”

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