EU ‘planning for collapse of Brexit talks’
Barnier’s warning as Davis promises MPs a vote on final agreement
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has said the bloc is drawing up contingency plans for the possible collapse of Britain’s departure talks.
Barnier, who last Friday gave the UK a two-week deadline to provide greater clarity on the financial settlement it was prepared to offer as part of the divorce deal, told France’s Journal du Dimanche (JDD) newspaper the failure of the talks was not his preferred option.
“But it’s a possibility,” he said. “Everyone needs to plan for it, member states and businesses alike. We too are making technical preparations for it.”
The remarks came as Theresa May faced increasing pressure over Brexit at home. On Monday David Davis promised that British MPs and peers would be able to scrutinise, amend and vote on the final Brexit agreement through primary legislation in a concession to pro-EU Conservative backbenchers. The Brexit secretary announced the move in the Commons as the government faced possible defeat on an amendment laid down by Dominic Grieve, which had called for a meaningful vote on the final deal.
However, the offer was attacked by both Labour and Conservative politicians, who expressed anger that it did not give parliament any say in the case of a no-deal Brexit. Others said the lack of promise to hold the vote before Britain’s EU exit date, 29 March 2019, meant the offer was meaningless.
Further pressure on May came last weekend when Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, who led the Brexit campaign but infamously split when Gove withdrew his support for Johnson’s Tory leadership campaign and ran himself, joined forces to complain in a leaked letter of “insufficient energy” on Brexit in some parts of government, insisting any transition period must end in June 2021.
Barnier said it was vital that Britain increases its financial offer, thought to have been estimated by the EU at about €60bn (£53bn), if talks are to move on from the divorce phase to future trade as the UK desperately wants. Member states will decide at a summit on 14 and 15 December whether or not “sufficient progress” has been made on the core separation issues – the divorce bill, the Irish border and citizens’ rights – for negotiations to advance to the next stage.
EU diplomats have said that if the 14-day deadline is not met, trade talks would be delayed until February or March next year. If it is, Barnier told the JDD, negotiations on a new treaty could start in January and would take “at least two years to conclude”. Barnier warned that a collapse of the divorce talks would have “consequences in multiple areas”, from “the capacity of British planes to land in Europe to that of dogs and cats to cross the Channel”.
Without a deal on future trade, the EU and Britain would revert to World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms and trading relations “like those we have with China”. The only option for frictionless trade would be for the UK to remain in the customs union and the single market. “That is an option that is still possible for us,” Barnier said, “but Theresa May’s government prefers to leave the single market and the customs union and rely on a trade agreement.”
The Spanish newspaper El País also reported last Sunday that Brussels was working on Brexit contingency plans, citing an internal document describing the formation of a Brexit preparedness group that has begun working in parallel with the bloc’s negotiating team.
Deal makers? The EU’s Michel Barnier, right, and the UK’s David Davis