Michel Barnier warns UK that Brexit talks approaching ‘moment of truth’

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator has accused the UK of “backtracking on its commitments”, saying the two sides remain “very far” apart.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

05 Jun 2020

Speaking on Friday after the fourth round of Brexit talks, “In all areas, the UK continues to backtrack on its commitments including on fisheries.”

He said, “It is clear we will not reach our objectives and targets given the way these negotiations are going.”

Admitting that the talks will now “go right to the wire” in the autumn, he said, “I am disappointed by the UK position.”


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The latest four days of online talks have followed a series of testy exchanges between the EU and UK, not least over the thorny area of fisheries.

Barnier, speaking in Brussels, said that “even in the few areas where we saw some improvement this week, such as on human rights, we have still fallen short of what was agreed in the Political Agreement.”

He said the UK did not want to talk about defence, security and foreign policy “even though this was agreed in the Political Agreement.”

“It is clear we will not reach our objectives and targets given the way these negotiations are going Even in the few areas where we saw some improvement this week, such as on human rights, we have still fallen short of what was agreed in the Political Agreement” EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier

A clearly frustrated Barnier said, “I do not understand why this is the case but we will not accept this backtracking and will request full respect for the Political Agreement.”

He said the UK “has a chance to show that it remains committed to the Political Agreement” at a high level conference on Brexit between EU leaders, including European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, council president Charles Michel and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. This is due to take place later this month though a date has not yet been set.

In the coming days, the commission will take stock of the talks with member states and parliament’s Brexit coordinator group, he told reporters.

But he warned, “In a short timeframe we are coming to the moment of truth. But, I repeat, we expect the UK to respect its commitments.”

“If we will remain serene and patient, and adopt a calm but vigilant approach, by the summer I believe we can still find common ground and reach agreement which we need for both our futures.”

Barnier said, “An agreement on something like this is always agreed at the last minute, if there is an agreement at all. It is all about looking for a tunnel and, perhaps at the end of the talks in October, we will need an intensive round to get over the line but we are not there yet. We need to use the coming three or four months to get this over the line and, yes, we do need some extra political momentum”.

Barnier said the PA had been agreed by Johnson and “is for us, the only valid reference in these talks. Yet in round after round of talks our UK counterparts seek to distance themselves from this.”

“An agreement on something like this is always agreed at the last minute, if there is an agreement at all. It is all about looking for a tunnel and, perhaps at the end of the talks in October, we will need an intensive round to get over the line but we are not there yet” EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier

After the latest round of talks, he said, “There has been no significant progress and has not been since start and it cannot go on like this forever.”

“The UK has refused to an extension and to allow more time. We are still open to this by extending for 1 or 2 years. Our door is still open but if no joint decision, as is currently the case; the UK will leave the single market and customs union in 7 months.”

As there must be a “legal text” for the UK’s exit in place by 31 October, he said, “We have to use this time as efficiently as possible.”

He suggested that the next round of talks, starting at the end of June, should “cover all subjects.”

“We now need more concentrated, focused work to give this a new boost. I hope also to start meting face to face by the end of June as this will allow us to work better, easily and more effectively.”

He said, “We still have 5 months and I will continue to work with my team but the lack of progress is not due to method but the substance. We must stick to our commitments if we are to move forward.”

On citizens’ rights, he is “pleased” the 3.1m EU citizens in the UK “have already been granted resident status. We are carefully monitoring the situation of more vulnerable citizens.”

Of the 1.5m UK nationals in the EU, he said 13 member states had chosen system that will allow them to apply for resident status in their adopted country. He hopes this scheme will be “as simple and accessible as possible.”

He said the other 14 member states have chosen an alternative, “declaratory” system which means UK citizens will be asked to prove their status.

“There are still a lot of details to be agreed and more work to do on the technical side.”

“For our part we are willing to work hard to see whether at least the outline of a balanced agreement, covering all issues, can be reached soon. Any such deal must of course accommodate the reality of the UK’s well-established position on the so-called “level playing field”, on fisheries, and the other difficult issues” UK chief Brexit negotiator David Frost

Also speaking on Friday, David Frost, the UK's chief Brexit negotiator, said, “We have just completed our fourth full negotiating round with the EU, again by video conference. It was a little shorter than usual and more restricted in scope. We continue to discuss the full range of issues, including the most difficult ones.

“Progress remains limited but our talks have been positive in tone. Negotiations will continue and we remain committed to a successful outcome.

“We are now at an important moment for these talks. We are close to reaching the limits of what we can achieve through the format of remote formal Rounds. If we are to make progress, it is clear that we must intensify and accelerate our work. We are discussing with the Commission how this can best be done.

“We need to conclude this negotiation in good time to enable people and businesses to have certainty about the trading terms that will follow the end of the transition period at the end of this year, and, if necessary, to allow ratification of any agreements reached.

“For our part we are willing to work hard to see whether at least the outline of a balanced agreement, covering all issues, can be reached soon. Any such deal must of course accommodate the reality of the UK’s well-established position on the so-called “level playing field”, on fisheries, and the other difficult issues.”

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