James Crisp. Freelance journalist in Brussels.

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EU Brexit boss sets October 2018 deadline for end of UK divorce talks

The European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator today (6 December) set an October 2018 deadline for the end of divorce talks with the UK, shortening the time for EU-British negotiations by five months.

Michel Barnier told a packed Brussels press conference that finalising the divorce terms in October would give the European Council, European Parliament, and the UK Parliament five months to ratify the deal.  Britain would quit the EU in March 2019.

But he said that timeline will only stand if UK Prime Minister Theresa May keeps her promise to trigger Article 50, the legal process taking the UK out of the EU, before the end of March 2017. Article 50 foresees a two-year period of negotiations.

“Time will be short when we receive the notification [of Article 50],” Barnier said, “It is clear the period of actual negotiations will be shorter than two years.”

“There will be less than 18 months to negotiate,” he added. “The negotiations need to be done by October 2018, that is just before the European elections.”

Barnier warned, “We are entering uncharted waters. The work will be legally complex, politically sensitive and will have important consequences for our economies and first of all for our people on both sides of Channel.”

He urged May to trigger Article 50 as soon as possible. “We all have a common interest in not prolonging this atmosphere of uncertainty,” he said.

Barnier warned that there would be no negotiations before Article 50 was triggered but hinted at some of the EU’s possible red lines.

Hard Brexit and Single Market

There has been much discussion in Britain over whether the UK could remain a member of the European Single Market after it leaves the EU.  In particular, the British government has said the 23 June referendum vote has given them a mandate to introduce curbs on the freedom of movement of EU citizens.

But Barnier said there was no way that the British could enjoy Single Market access with such curbs.

“The Single Market and four freedoms are indivisible. Cherry-picking is not an option,” he said.

Asked if the UK could pay into the EU Budget for access to the Single Market, an option hinted at by British Brexit boss David Davis, Barnier said it was possible.

“You can have a look at the European Economic Area, at Norway and Iceland, to get an idea of what it could look like,” he told reporters.

“In the case of Norway, it has access to Single Market but this is with predetermined, very specific contributions to the EU budget. It is one of closest models to being in the EU without being a member.”

Barnier said, “I do not want to speculate on what future relations will be. It is for the British to say what kind of relationship they want and for the 27 member states to define the future we want to build with the British.”

He added, “Being a member of EU comes with rights and benefits. Third countries can never have the same rights and benefits since they are not subject to same obligations.”

The debate over Single Market access has led to calls for a “hard Brexit”, which would take the UK out of the market and the Customs Union.

Barnier said, “Frankly I do not know what a hard or a soft Brexit is. I can say what a Brexit is – clear, ordered and will work within the European Council guidelines on the content of negotiation.”

“This will be of a different legal nature and will, in fact, create a new partnership with the UK after its departure.”

Asked if there could be a transitional period in UK_EU relations before Brexit enters into force, Barnier said it was difficult to say until the British said how they saw the future relationship.

>>Read: Whole story on EurActiv. 

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This entry was posted on December 7, 2016 by in Brexit, Journalism and tagged , , .

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