- Reuters/Francois Lenoir
LONDON – Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, has reportedly told senior European political and business figures in recent weeks that Brexit will be long, “painful, not pleasant, and costly” for Britain.
Barnier has claimed in meetings with politicians, businesses, and private citizen groups that the UK government’s proposals are highly unrealistic, and that a free trade agreement will take much longer than the two years allowed by Article 50 notifications to negotiate, according to Politico.
Barnier has also said in explicit terms that the UK government’s reluctance to address the issue of its financial obligations, commonly known as the “divorce bill,” was jeapordising UK-EU relations.
“How do you build a future relationship if there’s no trust, if you haven’t honored your commitments?” Barnier repeatedly asks his audiences, sources have told Politico.”I don’t know how to do that.”
News of Barnier’s private remarks to private audiences comes ahead of Prime Minister Theresa May’s highly-anticipated speech in Italy on Friday, where she is set to deliver a major update on Brexit negotiations.
May is reportedly set to reiterate the UK government’s desire for a bespoke post-Brexit relationship with the EU. She may also offer to make financial contributions to Brussels during a transition period, in order to plug a hole in the so-called divorce bill.
However, Barnier’s blunt message to private audiences across the continent has been that Britain still doesn’t understand the EU’s red lines, according to attendees who have spoken to Politico.
For example, on the question of Britain’s commitment to the EU budget, which lasts until 2020, Barnier has allegedly said: “We don’t accept to pay as 27 what has been decided at 28. It’s as simple as that. No way.”
He has also warned that Britain will not be able to cherry-pick from existing relationships the EU has with countries like Norway and Turkey. “We are not going to mix up models,” he has reportedly claimed. “But each model is available.”
Barnier is a frustrated figure
The EU chief Brexit negotiator has expressed frustration with his British counterparts in recent weeks after the two sides failed to reach an agreement on citizens’ rights, the Irish border, and Britain’s financial obligations.
The EU has insisted that talks cannot move onto the issue of future trade relations until “sufficient progress” is made on the aforementioned topics.
Barnier and Britain’s Brexit Secretary David Davis had made no “decisive progress” in the first stage of negotiations, the former claimed in a press conference at the end of last month.”We’re quite far from being able to say sufficient progress has taken place.”
Tension between the pair appeared to reach a new high following the most recent round of talks.
Barnier described the UK government’s demands as “simply impossible” while Davis said talks had exposed the EU as being less “flexible and pragmatic” than Britain.