Juncker warns May not to ‘go over Barnier’s head’

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Jean-Claude Juncker made a stern warn­ing to UK Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May that she should not at­tempt to go over the head of the EU’s chief ne­go­tia­tor by open­ing di­rect dis­cus­sions with mem­ber state lead­ers like An­gela Merkel and Em­manuel Macron.

UK me­dia quoted sources close to 10 Downing Street who re­port­edly said May was go­ing to by­pass EU Brexit ne­go­tia­tor Barnier, who has been re­ferred to as “more like a school­yard bully than an in­ter­na­tional diplo­mat”.

Speak­ing to the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment on Tues­day in a de­bate on the on­go­ing Brexit talks, Juncker made it plain that: “For those that think that the UK should just “go over Michel Barnier’s head”, I re­mind them that the Com­mis­sion has been ap­pointed by the 27 mem­ber states and my choice of Michel Barnier had been wel­comed by them.

“He acts on their be­half on the ba­sis of clear ne­go­ti­at­ing man­dates.”

He added that Barnier will re­port to EU lead­ers at the next Euro­pean Coun­cil on Oc­to­ber 19-20.

“Un­til now I can­not say that we are ready to en­ter the sec­ond phase of the ne­go­ti­a­tions,” Juncker stressed.

EU lead­ers are to de­cide at the Oc­to­ber sum­mit whether enough has been agreed on the di­vorce to start dis­cussing the fu­ture re­la­tion­ship in­clud­ing a trade deal, as Bri­tain has de­manded.

But the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment, which will have a fi­nal veto on any deal for Bri­tain’s de­par­ture from the bloc in March 2019, passed a res­o­lu­tion call­ing on EU lead­ers to post­pone the de­ci­sion.

“We first need to agree on the terms of the di­vorce and then we see if we can half-lov­ingly find each other again,” Juncker told Par­lia­ment.

The move comes de­spite a speech by May in Florence last month of­fer­ing con­ces­sions, which Barnier told MEPs had been “trans­lated into ne­go­ti­at­ing po­si­tions” by her team, led by Brexit min­is­ter David Davis.

Juncker said May’s speech was “con­cil­ia­tory” but added that speeches were not ne­go­ti­at­ing po­si­tions.

“We have not yet made the suf­fi­cient progress needed,” he warned, out­lin­ing the in­suf­fi­cient progress in the three key fields of the talks held so far.

In the field of cit­i­zen rights he said progress has been made, but the in­dis­pens­able role of the Euro­pean Court of Jus­tice in guar­an­tee­ing those rights still needed to be agreed.

Re­gard­ing the fi­nan­cial obli­ga­tions of the UK, Juncker said that he was pleased that in her Florence speech May had ac­knowl­edged such fi­nan­cial obli­ga­tions in prin­ci­ple.

“The devil will be, as al­ways, in the de­tail. But the tax­pay­ers of the EU27 should not pay for the Bri­tish de­ci­sion,” Juncker warned.

On the Ir­ish bor­der ques­tion, he said it was only pos­si­ble to talk of so­lu­tions that fully re­spect EU law and the Good Fri­day Agree­ment.

Barnier took the floor af­ter Juncker and ba­si­cally re­peated the same mes­sages.

The MEPs’ res­o­lu­tion, backed by all the ma­jor po­lit­i­cal groups, is harsh on Bri­tain’s re­fusal so far to set­tle the Brexit bill, say­ing that the “ab­sence of any clear pro­pos­als has se­ri­ously im­peded the ne­go­ti­a­tions”.

It says they are “of the opin­ion that in the fourth round of ne­go­ti­a­tions suf­fi­cient progress has not yet been made” in the three key ar­eas.

It also “calls on the Euro­pean Coun­cil (of na­tional lead­ers), un­less there is a ma­jor break­through in line with this res­o­lu­tion in all three ar­eas dur­ing the fifth ne­go­ti­a­tion round, to de­cide at its Oc­to­ber meet­ing to post­pone its as­sess­ment on whether suf­fi­cient progress has been made.”

The Brexit de­bate al­lowed top MEPs to take aim at May and her di­vided cab­i­net, par­tic­u­larly Davis and For­eign Sec­re­tary Boris John­son.

“Who should I call in Lon­don – Theresa May, Boris John­son or David Davis?” said Man­fred We­ber, the head of the Par­lia­ment’s big­gest group, the cen­tre-right Euro­pean Peo­ple’s Party.

Man­fred even urged May to “sack Boris John­son”, who has un­der­mined May on a se­ries of key Brexit is­sues and is due to speak at the Con­ser­va­tive party con­fer­ence in Manch­ester on Tues­day.

Bri­tish Euroscep­tic fig­ure Nigel Farage – who still holds a seat in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment – mean­while said May was a “waste of space” and should re­sign.

The fifth round of Brexit talks is due to start in Brus­sels on Mon­day.

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