Statement by Michel Barnier
at the press conference following his meeting with Dominic Raab, UK Secretary of State for Exiting the EU
Brussels, 26 July 2018
Ladies and gentlemen,
Dominic and I just had a second constructive meeting.
I agree with what Dominic said last week – we must bring new energy into these negotiations. And we will need to sustain this energy over the coming weeks in order to reach an agreement. We both want to conclude in October, with a deal. We have two main challenges.
First, we need to finalise the outstanding issues of the Withdrawal Agreement, including a legally operative backstop for Ireland and Northern Ireland. Second, we need to agree on a political declaration on our future relationship.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me focus first on the future relationship. Last Friday, I made some initial comments on the UK’s White Paper.
This week confirmed that the UK proposals on security mark a real step forward:
- The UK has provided new guarantees on the protection of fundamental rights and the uniform application of law:
- The White Paper commits the UK to membership of the European Convention on Human Rights.
- It recognises the European Court of Justice as the only arbiter of EU law.
These are important safeguards. They enlarge the possibilities of what we can do together on internal security, in particular on data exchange.
- Based on the protection of personal data, and based on reciprocity, the EU and the UK can explore the modalities for close cooperation on the following points:
- the exchange of DNA, fingerprints, and vehicle registration information (so called “Prüm”),
the exchange of Passenger Name Records to better track and identify individuals involved in terrorism and crime,
- swift and effective extradition, based on the procedural rights for suspects.
Furthermore, I am particularly pleased with the progress in our talks on foreign policy and external security.
We have a shared understanding on how to organise our future close cooperation, including on sanctions, defence capabilities and crisis management. The UK is a member of the UN Security Council, and an important player in security and defence. Our cooperation is even more important in today’s geo-political context. I recall that this EU-UK cooperation in defence will be in addition to what we already do in NATO, and to bilateral agreements between the UK and certain Member States.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In contrast, on our future economic relationship, it comes as no surprise that finding common ground between the EU27 and the UK is more difficult. But we have agreed already on a common denominator: we both want an ambitious Free Trade Agreement.
In March, EU leaders proposed an unprecedented Free Trade Agreement. Another area of convergence between the EU and the UK is the need for ambitious customs arrangements. We are also both committed to a level playing field between our economies. But, to be frank, we are not at the end of the road yet. There are major issues to be discussed and questions to be answered.
We share a clear understanding on a core principle that will define our future economic relationship: the UK and the EU will both preserve the autonomy of their decision-making. Both will preserve their regulatory autonomy.
The UK wants to take back control of its money, law, and borders, as Dominic said in an article this morning.
We will respect that. But the EU also wants to keep control of its money, law, and borders. The UK should respect that. So, we share an objective in that regard.
A clear example of what this means concerns our future relationship in financial services. We discussed financial services this week and agreed that future market access will be governed by autonomous decisions on both sides.
We recognised the need for this autonomy, not only at the time of granting equivalence decisions, but also at the time of withdrawing such decisions. And we agreed to have close regulatory cooperation, which will also have to respect the autonomy of both parties.
Maintaining control of our money, law, and borders also applies to the EU’s customs policy. The EU cannot – and will not – delegate the application of its customs policy and rules, VAT and excise duty collection to a non-member, who would not be subject to the EU’s governance structures.
Any customs arrangements or customs union – and I have always said that the EU is open to a customs union – must respect this principle. In any case, a customs union, which would help to reduce friction at the border, would come with our Common Commercial Policy for goods.
President Juncker’s visit to Washington yesterday shows the importance of our Common Commercial Policy. It shows that we are stronger together. Any customs arrangement will also have to be workable and must protect EU and national revenue, without imposing additional costs on businesses and customs authorities. This is the framework within which we will work with the UK over the coming weeks.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This week, these customs discussions have also been the backdrop to the backstop. We have a clear agreement between the EU and the UK that the Withdrawal Agreement must contain an all-weather insurance policy. We share the goal of avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland.
Let me recall why. Because, as we agreed in December, the absence of a hard border has to be guaranteed no matter what the future relationship will be. Of course, we have always said that a better solution in the future EU-UK relationship could replace the backstop. This explains the “unless and until” provision of the backstop to which the UK has agreed. Continued uncertainty on this issue after the UK’s withdrawal would be unacceptable for Ireland, for Northern Ireland, for the UK as a whole, and obviously for the EU27.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We also had agreed in March on the scope of the issues to be solved in the backstop. This week, we focused on the customs element of the backstop. The UK wants this to be UK-wide. As I said last week, we have no objection in principle to this. But we have doubts that this can be done without putting at risk the integrity of our Customs Union, our Common Commercial Policy, our regulatory policy, and our fiscal revenue.
We have had an open and frank – and therefore useful – discussion with Dominic and his team on these issues.
I think that the UK has understood our concerns and respects our principles.
And the UK has promised to come back to us with concrete proposals on how to address our concerns.
Both teams will reflect on this in the coming weeks. The next time we meet will be mid-August. We must advance and agree on a legally operative backstop solution to conclude the Withdrawal Agreement.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Before giving the floor to Dominic and taking questions, let me just add one more point. I have been focusing on all the open issues and the work that we have ahead of us over the next few weeks to conclude the Withdrawal Agreement. Let’s keep in mind that we have already agreed on a large part of this Withdrawal Agreement – more or less 80%. This includes the very important issue of citizens’ rights, which has been our priority since the beginning of this negotiation, as well as the priority of the European Parliament. It continues to be our priority.
But the job does not stop here. We will also have to work on making sure that citizens can easily avail themselves of the rights that will be guaranteed in the Withdrawal Agreement. We are working with the Home Office as well as with the Member States on this point.
Thank you for your attention.
Op-ed by Michel Barnier (Published 2nd August 2018)
The United Kingdom will leave the European Union on 29 March 2019 (postponed to 31 January 2020, with a transitional period to effective withdrawal on 31 December 2020). While we regretted the UK’s departure, we respect its sovereign decision. Our task is now to organise the disentanglement of the UK from the EU’s institutions and policies. And we also need to look towards the future.
After Brexit, the EU will remain a global player, with 440 million citizens, and one of the biggest world economies. The UK has been an EU member for 45 years. We share common values and have a number of common interests. The UK, which is a member of the G7 and the UN Security Council, can be an important partner of the EU, economically and strategically. In the current geopolitical context, we have an interest not only to strengthen the EU’s role in the world but to cooperate with the UK as a close partner.
How can we achieve a new partnership?
First, we need to make sure that the UK’s exit is orderly. 80% of the Withdrawal Agreement is agreed. We will protect the rights of more than 4 million EU citizens living in the UK and British nationals in the EU. This was our first priority and a major point of vigilance for the European Parliament. The UK has also agreed to honour all its financial obligations undertaken as an EU member. A 21 month transition period will give businesses and administrations time to adapt, as the UK would stay in our Single Market and Customs Union until 31 December 2020.
However, 80% is not 100%. We still need to agree on important points, such as the protection of “geographical indications”. This refers to the protection of local farm and food products like Scottish Whisky or Parmesan cheese, where EU protection has generated significant value for European farmers and producers. We need to find solutions for specific British territories, such as the UK’s sovereign bases in Cyprus, and Gibraltar on which bilateral negotiations are ongoing between Spain and the UK.
The biggest risk caused by Brexit is on the island of Ireland. We need to make sure that Brexit does not create a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and that the Good Friday Agreement, which has brought peace and stability to Northern Ireland, will be protected. Today, the cooperation and exchanges between Ireland and Northern Ireland occur within the common framework of the EU. Since we will not know what the future relationship will bring by Autumn 2018, we need to have a “backstop” solution in the Withdrawal Agreement. The UK agrees with this, and both the EU and the UK have said that a better solution in the future relationship could replace the backstop. What the EU has proposed is that Northern Ireland remains in a common regulatory area for goods and customs with the rest of the EU. We are ready to improve the text of our proposal with the UK.
Secondly, we need to agree on the terms of our future relationship.
Let’s be frank: as the UK has decided to leave the Single Market, it can no longer be as close economically to the rest of the EU. The UK wants to leave our common regulatory area, where people, goods, services and capital move freely across national borders. These are the economic foundations on which the EU was built. And the European Council – the 27 Heads of State or government – as well as the European Parliament have often recalled that these economic foundations cannot be weakened.
The UK knows well the benefits of the Single Market. It has contributed to shaping our rules over the last 45 years. And yet, some UK proposals would undermine our Single Market which is one of the EU’s biggest achievements. The UK wants to keep free movement of goods between us, but not of people and services. And it proposes to apply EU customs rules without being part of the EU’s legal order. Thus, the UK wants to take back sovereignty and control of its own laws, which we respect, but it cannot ask the EU to lose control of its borders and laws.
But I remain confident that the negotiations can reach a good outcome. It is possible to respect EU principles and create a new and ambitious partnership. That is what the European Council has already proposed in March. The EU has offered a Free Trade Agreement with zero tariffs and no quantitative restrictions for goods. It proposed close customs and regulatory cooperation and access to public procurement markets, to name but a few examples.
On security, the EU wants very close cooperation to protect our citizens and democratic societies. We should organise effective exchanges of intelligence and information and make sure our law enforcement bodies work together. We should cooperate to fight crime, money laundering and terrorist financing. We can cooperate on the exchange of DNA, fingerprints, or Passenger Name Records in aviation to better track and identify terrorists and criminals. We are also ready to discuss mechanisms for swift and effective extradition, guaranteeing procedural rights for suspects.
If the UK understands this, and if we quickly find solutions to the outstanding withdrawal issues, including the backstop for Ireland and Northern Ireland, I am sure we can build a future partnership between the EU and the United Kingdom that is unprecedented in scope and depth.
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