Barnier is risking a UK walkout, EU states fear
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.