Britons need to know consequences of Brexit, says EU negotiator

Michel Barnier

The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has said the British people need to be educated about the consequences of leaving the single market, the latest in a series of blows traded by Brussels and UK government ministers after a bruising round of exit talks.

In remarks likely to enrage UK ministers, Barnier said Brexit would be “an educational process” for the British public who voted to leave the EU. “I have a state of mind: not aggressive ... but I’m not naive,” he told the Ambrosetti forum in northern Italy.

“There are extremely serious consequences of leaving the single market and it hasn’t been explained to the British people,” he said, according to the BBC. “We intend to teach people … what leaving the single market means.”

Barnier’s comments to the annual economic conference follow a tense press conference in Brussels last week after the latest round of exit negotiations between the UK and EU delegations, where he said there had been “no concrete progress”.

He said there remained a lack of trust between both sides on crucial issues including the financial settlement and the rights of EU citizens, as well as the future trading relationship, as he accused the UK of a nostalgic and unrealistic approach.

On Sunday, Davis ridiculed the tone of Barnier’s press conference at the close of negotiations, saying his opposite number “looked a bit silly because there were plainly things we achieved”.

“The [European] commission puts itself in a silly position when it says nothing has been done when really important things have,” he said, citing agreements reached on health insurance for overseas Brits. “We put people before process. They are in danger of putting process first.”

The Brexit secretary insisted there was no legal obligation for the UK to pay for EU projects after leaving the bloc, even those approved while the UK was a member, but conceded there were “moral or political” reasons to reach a financial settlement.

Both Davis and No 10 sources have denied reports that May is preparing to agree a bill of about £46bn at current exchange rates, which the Sunday Times reported was to be announced after the Conservative party conference.

Davis said the story was “nonsense ... completely wrong” and that the UK position was not yet settled. “They have set this up because they are trying to play time against money,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, though he declined to repeat Liam Fox’s description of the negotiations as blackmail.

“Time is not running out. We have a two-year process,” he said. “Every time we come to something serious there will be a pressure exercise of this sort. Money is incredibly important, it is the thing that frightens them most.”

A source at the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEu) dismissed the comments as “part of the background noise that comes with these negotiations”, while a source close to Davis said the Brexit secretary remained relaxed about bombastic language, but had been annoyed specifically by suggestions no progress had been made on the negotiations.

“He said there would be turbulent times during these negotiations – this is the first ripple,” the source said.

The Eurosceptic former cabinet minister John Redwood said Barnier’s “disobliging language” showed the EU had still not accepted the referendum result. “I think it’s very sad that the EU does not appear to be listening to the British people since the Brexit vote,” he said.

“As an EU representative, they have a duty to conduct themselves in a way that is positive and friendly to neighbouring states, which we will be. It strikes me as desperation because they would really like to spend more of our money. We have given them three more years of paying large sums into the EU and that is enough time to adjust their budgets.”

Lib Dem Brexit spokesman Tom Brake called Barnier’s language “an unfortunate turn-of-phrase” but defended the sentiment. “Crashing out of Europe with a ‘No Deal’ has the potential to inflict permanent damage on UK jobs and families. That is the hard reality of a hard Brexit,” he said.

However, Brake said it was crucial that both sides dialled down the rhetoric in order to make progress, calling it “utterly counterproductive”.

“As silly season ends and both the UK and EU parliaments get back to work, I hope we start to see some serious grown-up progress.”

May was dealt a separate blow on Sunday ahead of parliament’s return next week with the departure of Lord Price, the former Waitrose boss, as international trade minister, amid reports he had been at odds with the government on Brexit policy.

MP Greg Hands, who took on the peer’s role as trade minister, twice refused to confirm whether Price had full confidence in the strategy when asked by the BBC’s Pienaar’s Politics programme. Price said he had resigned in order to pursue “business and writing interests.”.

Hands said the peer’s position was “always going to be a time limited period, his time in government, it was very good of him to join us.”

Lord Adonis, the former Labour minister and government infrastructure adviser, said it was clear Price had found it “impossible to justify or explain the government position” from the despatch box in the House of Lords. In a series of scathing tweets, Adonis said Price was “a serious guy – obviously he didn’t agree with Brexit policy – now no one to defend it in the [House of] Lords who is half competent.”

Ministers will face a testing week as parliament returns on Tuesday, with whips braced for battles with newly-emboldened Conservative rebels over the repeal bill. Both May and Davis warned MPs on Sunday they should not obstruct the bill’s passage via amendments, or they will risk a victory for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The European Union (withdrawal) bill is intended to transpose EU legislation into British law from the day the UK leaves the EU, but it is set to involve extensive use of so-called “Henry VIII powers” – laws that allow ministers to change primary legislation using secondary legislation without parliamentary scrutiny.

Critics say the bill will allow government ministers sweeping powers to change key areas of the law without parliamentary scrutiny, though Davis has insisted the powers will only be used for technical purposes.

Davis said all MPs had an interest in the bill succeeding. “Everything in terms of significant change will be done in separate primary legislation, from immigration bills to customs bills. Anybody, remainer or leaver, should support this bill,” he said.

“This bill is there in order to enable continuity, if you want a soft Brexit ... this is the bill you should be supporting. It takes the laws there now and puts them in place the say after we leave. It’s not a question of national politics.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Jessica Elgot Political reporter, for theguardian.com on Sunday 3rd September 2017 16.44 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010