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26th Sep 2021

'Brexit is not going to go away,' warns EU's Barnier

  • Irish PM Leo Varadkar and EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier at a previous meeting in Brussels (Photo: European Commission)

The UK's departure from the EU could still end in rupture at the end of the year if the two sides cannot agree on future relations by then, the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier warned on Monday (27 January).

Barnier said that "Brexit is not going to go away".

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Speaking in Dublin at a press conference with Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar, Barnier also warned the agreement on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will have to be implemented.

Varadkar said there will be have to be some checks on goods going from mainland Britain into Northern Ireland.

British prime minister Boris Johnson repeatedly insisted that checks will not be needed, despite the issue being a crucial point in reaching a withdrawal agreement with the EU.

"We will watch over its implementation very closely," Barnier said.

EU officials see the implementation of the "protocol" on Northern Ireland as prerequisite to a trade deal with the UK.

Talking about starting negotiations on the future trade deal, Barnier said it was time for the "second Brexit round", but warned that the "time is very short".

"If we have no agreement, it will not be business as usual and the status quo. We have to face a risk of a cliff edge, in particular for trade," he said.

"We have no time to lose with any polemics, and to use this time to rebuild this friendship, this relationship," Barnier added.

The French politician said he would present a draft negotiating mandate for the trade talks to EU member states next Monday, after the UK formally leaves the EU this Friday (31 January).

Member states are then likely to agree on the negotiating mandate for the commission at a ministerial meeting on 25 February.

The EU and the UK would then have less than 11 months to negotiate an agreement by the end of the year, which is when the Brexit transition period runs out.

During the transition period EU rules and obligations still apply to the UK, which will not be represented in EU institutions.

Barnier said the amount of access the UK goods will have to the single market would depend on the level of its commitment to keeping a level playing field with the EU.

"It is Britain's choice," Barnier told reporters.

The EU wants to make sure that the UK does not undercut the bloc.

Britain will become the first country to leave the EU, at midnight on Friday - ending nearly five decades of EU membership.

MEPs in the European parliament will vote on the divorce deal on Wednesday evening. Consent requires a simple majority.

On Friday, EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, EU council president Charles Michel, and EU parliament president David Sassoli are expected to make a press statement on the UK's departure.

Team Britannia

Johnson's spokesman said on Monday that Britain's post-Brexit negotiations will be conducted by a team of 40 officials known as "Taskforce Europe".

The team will report to Johnson and will be led by David Frost, who had also led negotiations with Brussels on the divorce deal.

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