EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier came to Berlin to meet Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. They made perfectly clear that there is not a hair's breadth between their positions on Britain leaving the European Union.
Berlin and Brussels showed a united front on Wednesday delivering a single message to London: There will be no cherry-picking when it comes to the single market.
European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier came to the German capital for talks with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, after which they appeared before a handful of cameras and reporters to offer similar statements.
"In the end, it will come down to the fact that we will resist the so-called cherry-picking," said Maas, following familiar declarations of sorrow that Britain had chosen to part ways, and that Germany, like all the other 27 remaining EU member states, wanted a close relationship with the UK in future.
However, both men remained optimistic that an agreement could be reached – that there would be no "disorganized Brexit." Barnier said a deal had been reached on a majority of the issues, while Maas professed that the "last big hurdle" was the question of the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
"We are firmly convinced that the exit agreement must guarantee that Brexit must not lead to a hard border in Northern Ireland," said Maas. "It is important that this guarantee must be valid regardless of how the EU and Britain will shape its new relationship."
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'Single market means single market'
Echoing British Prime Minister Theresa May's soundbite that "Brexit means Brexit," Barnier switched to English to deliver his own quip in retort: "single market means single market." This organization of trade within the EU, he said, remained "non-negotiable."
Once again, Maas' position was identical: "Of course the door remains open for London," he said. "Britain can take part in the single market just as it is, but we will not wind the single market back, or deconstruct it, or create special regulations."
"It cannot be that Britain on its side just picks out all the positive points for itself," the German minister added, leaving the impression that "leaving the European Union entails no disadvantage at all."
The current plan is for both sides to finish negotiations by October when the two sides will present the final deal at an EU summit. This will only leave a few months for all the various parliaments in the EU to ratify an exit contract; the official date set for Brexit is March 29, 2019.
Should no deal be reached by then, Britain will be subject to the World Trade Organization rules, which include many types of customs and border regulations for any trade with the EU.
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In contrast to all this harmony on the continent, the strife between Barnier and his main counterpart in the UK remains palpable: on Wednesday, the UK's Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab complained that Barnier was not making himself available for talks. Barnier said on Wednesday that he was planning to meet Raab at the end of the week.
As if to illustrate this trouble on the high seas, French and British fishermen are currently in the middle of a maritime dispute of their own. Reuters news agency reported on Wednesday that French boats had rammed British scallop dredgers they believed had encroached on their seabed in the Baie en Seine.
"They just came out and surrounded our fleet, throwing petrol bombs. It was mental," British fisherman Ciaran Cardell told Reuters.
British Environment Minister Michael Gove, one of the key architects of the Leave campaign in the 2016 Brexit referendum, claimed that the British boats were fishing legally. France bans all scallop dredging between May 15 and October 1, but Britain allows its vessels to operate year-round.