Barnier is risk­ing a UK walkout, EU states fear

The Sunday Telegraph - - Front page - By Ed­ward Mal­nick WHITE­HALL ED­I­TOR and Peter Fos­ter EUROPE ED­I­TOR in Brus­sels

THE EU’s chief Brexit ne­go­tia­tor has “frac­tured” the coali­tion of 27 coun­tries by dra­mat­i­cally step­ping up his ag­gres­sion to­wards Bri­tain, The Sun­day Tele­graph has been told.

Diplo­mats from mul­ti­ple EU coun­tries have ques­tioned whether “any­one” could be ex­pected to ac­cept terms put for­ward by Michel Barnier last week, with one sug­gest­ing to this news­pa­per that in the same po­si­tion they would “walk away and then see how the EU does without the money”.

A White­hall source said that French fig­ures had ex­pressed par­tic­u­lar anger at the “lack of con­sul­ta­tion” on a draft doc­u­ment pub­lished by Mr Barnier on Wed­nes­day which in­cluded a so-called pun­ish­ment clause that would al­low Brus­sels to ground air­craft and block trade if the UK failed to obey EU rules dur­ing the tran­si­tion pe­riod.

Nordic and East­ern Euro­pean coun­tries were also “frac­tur­ing” from the coali­tion fol­low­ing the “ag­gres­sive po­lit­i­cal open­ing salvo”.

Mr Barnier is ex­pected to come un­der sig­nif­i­cant pres­sure to drop the clause when he for­mally con­sults the mem­ber states on the draft this week.

The dis­clo­sures came as Theresa May ef­fec­tively set her Brexit “war cab­i­net” a dead­line of just over three weeks to reach an out­line agree­ment on a plan for a “fu­ture part­ner­ship” with the EU that can be put to Brus­sels early next month.

The Prime Min­is­ter has told min­is­ters that she will de­liver a speech in the days af­ter a crunch meet­ing of the Cab­i­net’s Brexit sub-com­mit­tee at Che­quers, her coun­try­side re­treat, next week, as part of an at­tempt to pro­vide more clar­ity amid mount­ing rest­less­ness from Brus­sels – and within her own party – about the progress of ne­go­ti­a­tions. Mrs May’s speech will be the last in a se­ries of ad­dresses by com­mit­tee mem­bers, in­tended to demon­strate a “unity of pur­pose” amid a firm di­vide over how closely Bri­tain should align with EU rules af­ter Brexit.

In the first speech, Boris John­son, the Cab­i­net’s most prom­i­nent Brex­i­teer, will de­liver a “ral­ly­ing cry” to those on both sides.

Mr Barnier’s un­veil­ing last week of a “pun­ish­ment clause” in the draft tran­si­tion doc­u­ment was said by one EU diplo­mat to have been a re­sponse to Mrs May rul­ing out the prospect of Bri­tain re­main­ing in a cus­toms union af­ter Brexit, fol­low­ing grow­ing pres­sure from Euroscep­tics ahead of two meet­ings of the Cab­i­net sub-com­mit­tee last week.

One EU diplo­mat for a coun­try sym­pa­thetic to Bri­tain said: “Could any­one ac­cept these terms? If I was Bri­tain I would be tempted to say ‘no’ – walk away and then see how the EU does without the money.”

Daniel Kawczyn­ski, the Con­ser­va­tive MP who chairs the all-party Con­tin­ued on Page 4

What is wrong with Michel Barnier? The EU’s chief ne­go­tia­tor is clearly out of con­trol and needs to be reined in by those for whom he claims to speak. His grand­stand­ing has now crossed a line: he in­sulted the UK at his most re­cent press con­fer­ence – pa­tro­n­is­ing us and ef­fec­tively ac­cus­ing us of ly­ing – as he de­fended a ridicu­lous pun­ish­ment clause that threat­ens Bri­tain with grounded flights and blocked trade if we break with EU law dur­ing the tran­si­tion. The tran­si­tion it­self, said Mr Barnier, “is not a given”.

In which case, nei­ther is the £39 bil­lion we have gen­er­ously of­fered as a di­vorce set­tle­ment. The whole point of mak­ing that of­fer was to move the ne­go­ti­a­tions on to phase two, cov­er­ing the tran­si­tion, and if Brus­sels wants to re­open the de­bate about the tran­si­tion then we can re­open the de­bate about the di­vorce bill.

It beg­gars be­lief that the UK side can­not see our strengths, merely our weak­nesses. Both Bri­tain and the EU would suf­fer badly in the ab­sence of a ne­go­ti­ated Brexit, and that’s pre­cisely why the UK can ne­go­ti­ate much more strongly. Without our money, Brus­sels would be plunged into a bit­ter and de­struc­tive cri­sis. Other coun­tries would be ham­mered with ex­tra levies and all sorts of ques­tions would have to be asked about pan-Euro­pean tax­a­tion and other ex­tremely con­tro­ver­sial fed­er­al­is­ing ini­tia­tives. It is the kind of de­vel­op­ment that could trig­ger the exit of at least one other EU coun­try.

When we do leave, the EU will be down by a net con­tri­bu­tion of around £8.1 bil­lion a year, which is why Mr Barnier was so des­per­ate to get us to agree to a “for­mula” that de­ter­mines how much we “owe”. That the UK gov­ern­ment doesn’t shout from the rooftops about this is a sign of its un­for­giv­able fail­ings. A strong gov­ern­ment would tell Brus­sels to stop mak­ing threats and re­mem­ber how much it fi­nan­cially de­pends on keep­ing our good will.

Ul­ti­mately, it is the prospect of a ruth­lessly com­pet­i­tive, free-trade Bri­tain op­er­at­ing on the bor­der of Europe that re­ally ter­ri­fies Brus­sels. The UK has plenty of mus­cle. It is time for our gov­ern­ment to start flex­ing it.

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