UK demands putting Brexit transition deal in doubt, says Barnier

Agreement on a transition period after Brexit has been thrown into doubt by the UK’s demands, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has said.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels after the latest round of talks, Barnier said he could not understand the positions taken by Downing Street in recent days.

No 10 wants to treat EU citizens arriving in the UK during the transition period differently to those already living in the country. The UK is also seeking a right to object to the application of new EU laws.

Barnier suggested that unless Downing Street gave way, the differences between the two parties could be insurmountable.

“When I met [the Brexit secretary] David Davis in London on Monday and once again in negotiations in Brussels this week, the UK insisted that we should reach an agreement in March on this transition period,” Barnier said. “At the same time, however, our partners set out a certain number of disagreements which I regard as substantial … To be quite frank, if these disagreements persist the transition is not a given.”

He added: “I don’t understand some of the positions of the UK.”

Barnier claimed a presentation on the UK’s vision of the future relationship had been cancelled by the British government on Friday morning due to what to he described as “diary constraints on the UK side”. Government sources denied the claim and insisted a discussion would happen later on Friday.

Responding to claims from Davis that the EU had been “discourteous” in including a punishment clause in its terms for a transition period, giving it the ability to sanction the UK if it infringes EU laws during the 21 months, Barnier said: “I am not going to discuss David’s comments. It would not be useful … I don’t really understand why there was this reaction, this uproar.”

He confirmed the Guardian’s report that, under the draft withdrawal agreement, Northern Ireland would in effect stay in the single market and customs union where relevant to the north-south economy and Good Friday agreement.

“We are working with the UK on this full alignment. We will be working on those matters in the next few weeks.”

Inside the EU, both Ireland and Northern Ireland (as part of the UK) are part of the single market and customs union so share the same regulations and standards.

The only way to avoid a hardening of the border after Brexit is to ensure regulations and standards on both sides remain more or less the same in areas like food, medicines and so on. 

This might imply a permanent acceptance of EU rules – something that would be anathema to hardline UK Brexiters and the DUP, who reject anything that would "decouple" the North from the UK. 

David Davis told parliament that regulatory alignment would not mean adopting exactly the same rules as the EU but "mutually recognised" rules and inspections.

However, an official in Brussels countered that regulatory alignment would mean that the UK would have to implement rules from Brussels without having any influence over them.

What is the government’s plan for ‘regulatory alignment’?
Davis says the UK could continue to follow some rules of the EU’s single market. This would help avoid a hard border, but would also limit the UK’s ability to diverge from EU regulations.

What does the EU think?
Davis thinks the UK and EU can agree to meet the same aims, while achieving them in different ways. The EU believes this could see its standards on workers’ rights and the environment undercut.

Can it even work?
Parliament cannot bind its successors. This principle would mean a deal would never be completely secure for more than five years – putting its feasibility in doubt.

The value of the pound to the dollar took an immediate dive after Barnier’s comments, indicating the importance of a transition period to businesses in the UK.

Powered by article was written by Daniel Boffey and Jennifer Rankin in Brussels, for on Friday 9th February 2018 12.43 Europe/ © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010