Brexit talks ‘should not be a pretence’ warns Barnier
The UK and EU “should not pretend to be negotiating” a Brexit deal if there are no new proposals on the table, the EU’s chief negotiator has said.
Michel Barnier said the UK telling the EU what it does not like about the current agreement was “not enough”.
He cast doubt on two ideas put forward by the UK – a single all-Ireland zone for agriculture and livestock and a Northern Irish veto over EU rules.
Boris Johnson has said there is a “landing zone” for an agreement.
He has said a deal is possible at a crucial summit of EU leaders on 17 October – although ministers have said they are reluctant to reveal the details of new proposals in advance for fear they will be “rubbished” by the EU.
Mr Johnson has insisted he will not accept a further delay beyond 31 October despite MPs passing a law requiring him to seek an extension if there is no deal by 19 October.
After meeting Mr Barnier and Mr Juncker in Luxembourg on Monday, Mr Johnson said the process of trying to get a deal on the terms of exit would be accelerated.
Briefing the European Parliament, Mr Juncker said the lunch had been “friendly and constructive” but there had been no progress on the main sticking point – the UK’s demand that the Northern Irish backstop should be removed from the current agreement.
Mr Juncker said any alternative to the backstop must achieve the same objectives – to prevent the need for physical infrastructure on the border with the Republic of Ireland, to safeguard the EU’s single market and protect all-Ireland economic co-operation.
“I said to Mr Johnson that I have no emotional attachment to the backstop but I stand by the objectives it is intended to achieve,” he said.
“That is why I called on the PM to come forward with operational proposals in writing, practical steps that would allow us to achieve those objectives.
Until such time those proposals have been presented, I will not be able to tell you looking you straight in the eye that any real progress has been achieved.”
Mr Barnier said the UK had made it clear which aspects of the backstop it did not like but the two sides shouldn’t “pretend to be negotiating” if there was no real progress.
“That is not enough to move towards achieving a solution. We need a legally operative solution in the withdrawal agreement which fully responds to each one of the problems.”
He appeared to reject UK proposals to give the Stormont Assembly in Northern Ireland a say over how much it conforms with EU customs rules and diverges from Britain while the UK remained in any backstop arrangement.
He said there were already provisions in the current agreement giving the UK a degree of control over the backstop’s “application”.
“It is up to the UK government to ensure the support of the Northern Irish institutions for the withdrawal agreement that would be signed on behalf of the whole of the UK,” he said.
He said any agreement would have to include specific guarantees on cross-border food safety and animal health to protect Irish citizens and businesses in the rest of the EU.
He also indicted the success of a future economic relationship would depend on the EU receiving guarantees on social, environmental and competition regulations.
And MEP Guy Verhofstadt, the Parliament’s Brexit spokesman, called on the UK to give all EU nationals living in the country the automatic right to remain after Brexit.
Rather than channelling the “angry Hulk” – a reference to Mr Johnson’s recent comparison of the UK to the Incredible Hulk – he said the PM should adopt the persona of a “caring nanny”, such as Mrs Doubtfire, and show generosity to the three million EU nationals in the UK.
But Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage said it was clear the UK and EU were paving the way for an agreement next month which would be portrayed as a “victory” for both sides.
Even without the backstop, he said the deal on the table would be “bad” for the UK as it would see it “trapped in EU rules and under the auspices of the European Court”.
He also criticised they way Mr Johnson was treated during a visit to Luxembourg last week.
He said the country’s “pipsqueak” leader Xavier Bettel had “ritually humiliated” his counterpart by appearing at a press conference without him and berating his Brexit policy.