EU ‘plan­ning for col­lapse of Brexit talks’

Barnier’s warn­ing as Davis prom­ises MPs a vote on final agree­ment

The Guardian Weekly - - UK News - Guardian re­porters

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

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