‘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

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