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Barnier says Brexit transition ‘not a given’
February 10, 2018
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BRUSSELS: EU negotiator Michel Barnier warned on Friday that there were “substantial disagreements” with Britain on a post-Brexit transition period and that a deal was not guaranteed.

“If these disagreements persist, the transition is not a given,” Barnier told a news conference in Brussels after a round of Brexit talks with British negotiators.

Barnier said deep divisions remained on citizens rights for EU migrants moving to Britain during the proposed 21-month transition as well as the UK’s ability to object to new laws passed during the phase.

Barnier added that he “wasn’t talking about a threat” but “if this disagreement were to persist there would undoubtedly be a problem, I hope we would be able to resolve those disagreements in the next round” of talks.

Britain hopes to agree by an EU summit at the end of next month on a transition period lasting from its departure from the bloc in March 2019 to the end of 2020, during which it will still follow EU laws in exchange for access to the single market.

The former French minister also hit back at comments made by his UK counterpart David Davis, who was not in Brussels, that the European Union was acting in bad faith and had been “discourteous.”

Barnier said that he did not understand the angry British reaction to a draft EU transition agreement that contained sanctions for Britain if it breached the terms of the deal, including freezing its single market access.

“There is no desire to punish,” Barnier said, adding however that it was standard for international agreements to have a “serious and effective” enforcement mechanism.

Britain and the EU held talks this week on plans for the transition period after Brexit.

A draft EU agreement published on Wednesday calls for the ability to sanction Britain in cases in which it would take too long to refer any breach of those rules to the EU’s top court.

That could include reimposing tariffs or customs checks, both of which Britain is supposed to be free of as a member of the EU internal market during the transition to December 2020.

The UK is at odds with Brussels in a number of areas: it has demanded a power to object to new rules imposed on it during the transition period, restrictions on the rights of EU citizens who come to Britain during the transition, and the ability to opt in to certain European policies.

The EU says its plan for the transition agreed by the 27 member states, which does not include these aspects, is “logical” and “non-negotiable.”

Talks also appeared to be making little headway on Friday after Barnier accused the UK of cancelling a planned meeting due to a “diary clash.” But British officials immediately denied cancelling the meeting and said it had merely been moved to the afternoon.

“To be quite frank, if these disagreements persist, the transition is not a given,” Barnier said.

“As I said, time is very short and we haven’t a minute to lose if we want to succeed, and we do want to succeed in this orderly withdrawal, and we have to discuss the future relationship as soon as possible.

“I have some problems understanding the UK’s position: they themselves asked for this transition period, the heads of state and government said yes on the basis of very logical conditions – because you’re keeping the single market, customs union, the economic status quo for a limited period, it’s understandable that we should keep the regulatory and supervision structure, the way rules are applied, it’s the integrity of the single market that’s at stake.

Agencies

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