UK needs to know consequences of Brexit, says EU negotiator

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 September, 2017, 11:33pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 September, 2017, 11:33pm

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 low blows traded by Brussels and UK government ministers after a bruising round of exit talks.

In remarks that are 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.”

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Barnier’s comments to the annual economic conference follow a tense press conference in Brussels 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.”

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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 £46 billion (US$59.5 billion) 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.”

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A source at the Department for Exiting the European Union 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.