‘Keep calm and negotiate’ – EU’s Brexit lead takes tough line in first public statement

Negotiations will have to be concluded in 18 months, Michel Barnier warned


The Brexit negotiations will be restricted to 18 months, according to the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier, and the UK cannot expect to special treatment.

In his first public statement on the negotiations, Barnier laid out the key negotiating priorities of the EU 27, emphasising that post-Brexit, the UK cannot expect to enjoy the same advantages as member states.

‘Four main ideas have informed our preparations so far,’ Barnier said at a press conference in Brussels.

“First, unity. Unity is a strength of the European Union. And President Juncker and I are determined to preserve the unity and the interest of the EU 27 in the Brexit negotiations. This determination is shared by all governments.

Second, being a member of the European Union comes with rights and benefits. Third countries can never have the same rights and benefits since they are subject to the same obligations.

Third, negotiations will not start before notification.

Fourth, the single market and its four freedoms are indivisible – cherry picking is not an option.”

In other words, the EU is not relenting on the fact that free trade within the single market is dependent on free movement of people.

Barnier also claimed that, although Article 50 allows two years for the exit process, ‘the period for actual negotiations’ will be about 18 months, since the two-year period must also encompass the setting of guidelines by the European Council and, once the negotiations have concluded, the approval of the deal by the European Council, the European Parliament and the UK.

This puts the UK at a disadvantage, since its negotiating team is vastly outnumbered and out-skilled.

Finally, Barnier’s statement demonstrated that EU negotiators remain frustrated with and hostile to the UK government. Although he delivered much of his statement in English, Barnier responded to journalists’ questions in French. Previously, British politicians have perceived Barnier’s commitment to using his native language as a deliberate obstruction of dialogue.

Moreover, he concluded his formal remarks with a clear dig at the British government, and the panicked approach it has taken so far.

‘We are ready,’ he said deadpan. ‘Keep calm and negotiate.’

See also: Labour motion says publish Brexit plan before Article 50

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.

2 Responses to “‘Keep calm and negotiate’ – EU’s Brexit lead takes tough line in first public statement”

  1. Craig Mackay

    An excellent comment by Colin Gordon to the piece by Ian Dunt on this website draws attention to the fact that the rules surrounding Freedom of Movement are very much more restrictive than anything implemented by the British government and particularly by Theresa May as Home Secretary for six years. It is astonishing that these rules are not understood properly and certainly are never discussed. Had they been known, the pressure for even holding a referendum would have evaporated and we wouldn’t be in the dreadful mess we are now.
    A brief summary of those comments including references to their origin can be found at: http://outsidethebubble.net/2016/12/06/massive-negligence-by-theresa-may-when-home-secretary/


    My thanks to Craig Mackay for picking up on this point from my comment which he cites – which in turn was picking up on some excellent posts by the blogger brexit853, especially here: https://brexit853.wordpress.com/2016/09/26/fom-isnt-the-problem-the-problems-are-uk-governments-failure-to-implement-properly/ . It’s good to see these points further developed and sources at Craig’s blog. My own inquiries indicated that academic experts endorse the key point that the EU’s Freedom of Movement rules allow for more controls on movement by Member States than the UK has to date either chosen to use or chosen to recognize are possible, because UK governments have found it convenient to blame the EU for levels of migration they have found it expedient to allow. Clearly recognizing and highlighting this really important point could modify the whole strategic balance of the upcoming Brexit debate – including evaluation of the net benefits of any preferred Brexit formula against the option to Remain. This point significantly undercuts one of the key arguments for Brexit put forward in the Referendum campaign which Theresa May herself has (characteristically) chosen to embrace, i.e. the insistence on the need for fuller sovereignty over border controls. All this does not of course mean that available FOM powers should actually be used, as they could be, to reduce the inflow of EU citizens into the UK. There are indeed already clear hints that the present government has little real intention of imposing such restrictions. What it means is that the UK already has the ability to choose its policy for these matters within some significant degrees of freedom, and accordingly that the claim that we are forced to perform a harder Brexit in order to recover this freedom is false. Maybe it would be helpful if some key people in journalism, politics and the research sector were willing to endorse these points and call for their wider recognition?

Leave a Reply