Thursday

1st Dec 2022

EU wants answers to de-dramatise Brexit talks

  • Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney and EU negotiator Michel Barnier at the EU affairs meeting on the UK's Brexit white paper (Photo: Council of the European Union)

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier hit a conciliatory tone when reacting to the latest UK proposals on Friday (20 July) - which nevertheless the EU consider insufficient for a breakthrough, as the risk of a 'no-deal' increases.

Barnier again warned, however, that without an agreement on the Irish border there will be no Brexit divorce agreement and no transition period.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

But he did open the way for alternative solutions other than the so-called 'backstop' put forward by the EU, that would see Northern Ireland practically stay in the customs union and parts of the single market.

Barnier briefed the 27 EU affairs ministers after he held his first meeting on Thursday with the new UK Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, after the resignation of David Davis over a week ago.

British prime minister Theresa May ruled out the backstop option again on Friday in a speech in Belfast, saying she could never agree to a border on the Irish Sea.

May has committed to a backstop in principle in a political agreement reached with the EU last December and again in a letter in March.

The EU sees securing the new external border of the EU after Brexit as a key issue in the withdrawal agreement that needs to be negotiated by October to have enough time for ratification by the British and European parliaments before Brexit takes effect next March.

For the EU, it is a guarantee to the integrity of the single market. The EU and the UK agreed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland not to risk the peace agreement reached on the island in 1998.

"This requires, in particular, a legally operative backstop, an all-weather insurance policy to address the issue of Ireland and Northern Ireland," Barnier said.

"I made it clear yesterday to Dominic Raab that we are not asking for a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. We need checks on goods, because the UK wants to leave the customs union and the single market and our common commercial policy. We cannot afford to lose time on the issue," he said.

13 weeks

The EU has invited UK negotiators next week for on talks on the Irish border.

"We are open to any solutions as long as they are workable, and can be transformed into a legally operative text in time for the withdrawal agreement," Barnier said, adding: "It is not necessarily our backstop."

"We need to find the right place and right time to carry out checks to protect consumers and to protect the single market," he said.

The chief negotiator added that the deal can be agreed in October or November to have time for the ratifications. He pointed out that around 13 weeks are left to talk before EU leaders' summit in October.

"It is not the matter of needing more time, but choosing the right decision," Barnier told reporters, pleading for pragmatism. "We need to de-dramatise things," he added.

The meeting on Friday was also the first chance for ministers to talk about the so-called white paper , key proposals on the future relationship drawn up by British prime minister Theresa May, which have already been undermined by hardline Brexiteers in parliament, by amendments to a trade bill, as well as the resignations of foreign secretary Boris Johnson and Brexit secretary David Davis.

Lukewarm

The EU gave a lukewarm welcome to the paper.

Conscious of May's fragile political situation in London, EU ministers were keen not to be harsh on the white paper, that they see as part of the next phase of talks on the future partnership, rather than the urgent negotiations needed to finalise the withdrawal agreement.

Barnier questioned some other key aspects in the white paper, as well as the Irish border.

He highlighted the UK's plan is to align with EU standards on goods only that are checked at the border, and the added bureaucracy.

Plus Barnier pointed to the 'facilitated customs arrangement' whereby the UK would collect tariffs on behalf of the EU, and how to avoid unfair competitive advantage for British firms if there is alignment on services.

Barnier, however, added that "several elements [in the white paper] does open the way a construction discussion on the future".

Risk of 'no-deal' never so high

EU officials said despite the long wait for the UK's position on the future partnership, the white paper, and the political turmoil in London, the bloc was keen to send a positive message on the white paper.

"We try to keep the process alive, but the risk of a no-deal was never so high," an EU official told EUobserver.

The EU is painfully aware that it is questionable if May could master a majority for any withdrawal agreement in the UK parliament, and also acknowledge that the proposals in the white paper do not reflect the EU's red lines.

"We have to sit down with the British and find out how much room of manoeuvre they have," the source added.

But the mood was generally bleak among EU ministers, as months of UK internal political struggle has not provided any clear direction or breakthrough for the negotiations.

"The no deal scenario has never been as likely as it is now; its consequences would be significant mostly for the UK – but also for the EU," Polan's EU affairs minister Konrad Szymanki said after the meeting.

EU urges no-deal Brexit preparation

The EU Commission urged companies, citizens, and member states to prepare in case the UK next March crashes out of the EU without a deal - on the day the new UK Brexit minister arrived in Brussels.

May avoids defeat in key Brexit bill

The British prime minister escaped defeat again in parliament, as EU governments question her ability to ratify any Brexit deal by Westminster.

UK's May moves towards 'soft' Brexit

In the wake of two cabinet resignations on the issue, UK government publishes its long-awaited vision for the future relationship with the EU, which would revolve around a free trade agreement on goods, but would end free movement.

UK poll suggests Brits would now vote Remain

Most UK voters in a YouGov survey said they would remain part of the European Union should a second referendum be held now. The poll follows reports the EU is willing to make a concession on British exit demands.

News in Brief

  1. 'Pro-Kremlin group' in EU Parliament cyberattack
  2. Ukraine will decide on any peace talks, Borrell says
  3. Germany blocks sale of chip factory to Chinese subsidiary
  4. Strikes and protests over cost-of-living grip Greece, Belgium
  5. Liberal MEPs want Musk quizzed in parliament
  6. Bulgarian policeman shot dead at Turkish border
  7. 89 people allowed to disembark in Italy, aid group says
  8. UN chief tells world: Cooperate on climate or perish

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  4. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  5. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos

Latest News

  1. EU Commission proposes suspending billions to Hungary
  2. EU: Russian assets to be returned in case of peace treaty
  3. Frontex leadership candidates grilled by MEPs
  4. Portugal was poised to scrap 'Golden Visas' - why didn't it?
  5. Why the EU asbestos directive revision ... needs revising
  6. Nato renews membership vow to Ukraine
  7. Catalan spyware victims demand justice
  8. Is the overwhelming critique of Qatar hypocritical?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  2. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  4. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  6. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us