The head of the EU negotiating team for Brexit, Michel Barnier, warned yesterday in the Congress that the European Union has no intention of reopening a withdrawal agreement that “was negotiated with the United Kingdom and not against the United Kingdom”.
“My goal is to achieve an orderly divorce, but then there will be a second negotiation, as soon as possible, that will be more important than the divorce itself because it is what will determine the future relationship”, said Barnier during his third appearance before the Mixed Commission for the European Union to explain the negotiation process for the departure from the United Kingdom.
For this, it is necessary for the United Kingdom to ratify both the agreement reached by the Executive of Theresa May with the EU and the political declaration, which is the “true road map for the second negotiation”, recalled Barnier, who after his appearance at the Congress was received at La Moncloa by the President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, with whom he agreed on the need to maintain unity of action against Brexit and on the importance of strengthening the common European project to curb the exclusionary nationalist movements in the upcoming European elections.
Barnier also met yesterday with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, EU and Cooperation, Josep Borrell, and with the Secretary of State for the EU, Luis Marco Aguiriano. During the meeting both sides agreed that “the withdrawal agreement can not be renegotiated but there is the best disposition to listen to British proposals and avoid a Brexit without agreement”.
According to Barnier explained to the deputies and senators of the Mixed Commission, one of the main objectives of the negotiation during the transition period will be the defense of citizens’ rights, which will remain “a priority” whether there is agreement or not. If there is no agreement, he said, the EU will take measures to guarantee the rights and will ask the States to “be as generous as possible” with the British citizens, “provided there is reciprocity on the other side”.
Another important and complicated issue is the financial agreement, “of great interest to Spain for cohesion funds, agricultural aid, cooperation with universities and aid to the outermost regions”, such as the Canary Islands. “The UK will come out two years after the end of the current seven-year budget period”, he recalled. “The British Government of David Cameron gave its approval in 2014 to the current financial framework and now we ask that, since it was decided by the 28, the 28 will pay until the end”, he added.
Regarding the possibility of the current withdrawal agreement being wrecked by the opposition of the House of Commons, Barnier acknowledged that one of the main obstacles is the issue of Ireland, a matter “very sensitive, although not unique”. “We can not raise the border between Northern Ireland again because we want to guarantee peace agreements”, but “the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, is going to leave the EU as a whole and the EU’s external border is also the border of Spain and any product that enters Northern Ireland will also enter Spain”, he added. Therefore, “we can not raise borders but we can apply controls, because we have to ensure the single market”.
For this reason, Barnier was “very disappointed and surprised” by the decision of the United Kingdom to block the proposal of the back stop – a safeguard that would take effect after the transition period to avoid a “hard border” in case of lack of agreement- when “it was the British themselves who proposed the original idea”.
Regarding the possibility of the Brexit being postponed while waiting for the Parliament to accept the agreement, Barnier was forceful: “The extension is possible, but I posed the question to Theresa May and she told me that they will not ask for a postponement. In any case, if they requested it, the Union should give a unanimous answer and ask why it wants this postponement”.
The red lines of the United Kingdom
As for the future relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom, Barnier said that “everything is possible”, even if the UK decides to remain in the European single market and in the customs union, as long as they “respect the rules”. In this regard, he recalled, there are other “tools with third countries that may be useful”, such as the relationship currently maintained by the EU with Norway or less binding agreements such as those of Canada or Korea, but everything depends, ultimately, on the attitude of London.
“Future cooperation based on a customs union is possible, but to do this they must change their red lines”, he explained. The problem is that “the British Government does not want to accept the agreement on the European Court, does not want to pay, does not want to respect the freedom of movement of people, does not want common commercial policies, does not want the single market, does not want environmental standards . With these red lines, the United Kingdom will close the doors”, said Barnier, who left unanswered a question about Gibraltar raised by the MP Fernando Maura, Ciudadanos.