The EU's top negotiator Michel Barnier expressed doubts on Friday Jul 20 over Britain's new Brexit blueprint for future trade ties with the European Union, as he called for rapidly settling outstanding issues like the Irish border.
But Barnier also welcomed good points in London's fresh proposal, such as plans for a free trade agreement, after he discussed it on Thursday with Britain's new Brexit negotiator Dominic Raab. Raab took up the job following a rebellion against Prime Minister Teresa May's Brexit proposal.
But before talk of future ties, Barnier said the priority should be on clinching a Brexit divorce deal over the next weeks, with 20% of the so-called withdrawal agreement still to be achieved.
Britain is set to leave the bloc on Mar 30, but the two sides want to strike the divorce agreement by late October in order to give parliaments enough time to endorse a deal.
”On the future economic partnership, the white paper (blueprint) raises three sets of questions for which we are expecting answers, Barnier told a press conference after consultations with EU ministers.
He said he wanted answers on whether the offer met EU guidelines, including on the free movement of goods, capital, people and technology.
He also sought to know whether the blueprint supported the integrity of the EU single market and the autonomy of European decision-making. He cited concerns about border controls, potential fraud and unfair competition.
We need choices and decisions, clarity and legal certainty, the French negotiator said.
But he said the blueprint contained several elements for a constructive discussion, including on security cooperation.
Barnier and others are concerned about the slow pace of talks against the backdrop of political discord in Britain, including the rebellion against May over her blueprint.
May's blueprint for the future would see Britain ask the EU for a free trade area for goods through a facilitated customs arrangement alongside a common rulebook.
Brexiteers believe that keeps Britain too close to the EU, while pro-Europeans think it fails to protect the country's dominant services sector, among other gripes.
We must rapidly find an agreement on all the subjects that are still open in the withdrawal agreement, Barnier said, recalling there were just 13 weeks left.
He listed as a top concern the lack of progress on the future of the border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland. The EU has proposed that Northern Ireland stay aligned with the bloc after Brexit if no other solution to the hard border can be found.
The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, published a document on Thursday urging the remaining 27 member states and businesses to step up preparations” for all outcomes, including the lack of a deal. It warned of disruptions, including to business supply chains.