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EU Brexit negotiator says UK plan 'illegal'

September 2, 2018

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has said the time to reach a Brexit deal could be extended. However, he also said UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s current Brexit proposal was a non-starter.

UK PM Theresa May
Image: Reuters/E. Vidal

Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper Sunday edition he was "strongly opposed" to UK prime Minister Theresa May's Chequers proposals on future UK-EU trade and that the British offer on customs was illegal.

"We cannot relinquish control of our external borders and the revenue there to a third country. That's not legal," he said.

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Barnier pointed for example at European car makers, who he said will have to use fewer British-made parts after Brexit.

EU sources have said the Chequers deal is effectively now "history" for Brussels as British and EU negotiators restart talks this week.

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His comments appear to be a roll-back on those he made last week that intimated the bloc could offer its "most ambitious" free trade agreement ever to Britain.

May meanwhile said in an article also published on Sunday that she wouldn't be "pushed into accepting compromises" on her Chequers agreement, under which there would be a "free trade area for goods" and the UK would retain existing regulatory and customs arrangements, but become in effect a rule-taker.

In an article for The Sunday Telegraph newspaper, May said the July Chequers agreement was a "good deal for Britain," although she has struggled to unite her own ruling Conservative party around it.

Rock and hard place

Barnier continued: "The British have a choice. They could stay in the single market, like Norway, which is also not a member of the EU. But they would then have to take over all the associated rules and contributions to European solidarity. It is your choice. But if we let the British pick the raisins out of our rules, that would have serious consequences. Then all sorts of other third countries could insist that we offer them the same benefits. That would be the end of the single market and the European project."

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"Moreover, the British proposal is not practical. It is impossible to tell exactly where a product ends up, on the UK market or in the internal market. The British proposal would be an invitation to fraud if implemented."

"I am often accused in the UK of being dogmatic," Barnier said. "In fact, I only fulfill our fundamental interests."

Putting off the inevitable

A deal currently due by October 18 must be completed "by mid-November," Barnier said.

"If we consider the time needed for the ratification of the exit agreement by the British parliament as well as by the European Parliament, then we must conclude the negotiations by mid-November. That is possible," he added.

He added, however, that, "We don't need more time. What we need are political decisions," he went on.

Britain is set to leave the EU on March 30 and the two sides have agreed to sign a divorce settlement by the October 18-19 EU summit. This would give parliaments time to endorse the deal.

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Barnier has also admitted that much needs to be done before the March 29 deadline.

Britain's Brexit minister Dominic Raab said last week there was "leeway" to miss the deadline of reaching a deal ahead of the October summit.

But talks are deadlocked on key issues, including how to avoid a hard border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland, as well as the future trading relationship.

jbh/rc (dpa, AFP)

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