The European Union has backed down from its plans to insert a ‘punishment clause’ into its Brexit deal with the United Kingdom, after leading Leave campaigners including Jacob Rees-Mogg said the country would not “roll over” for Brussels.
The European Commission, led by President Jean-Claude Juncker, and chief negotiator Michel Barnier wanted Britain to agree to a sanctions mechanism throughout the so-called ‘transition’ period which will — assuming a deal is made — run for roughly two years after Britain’s formal exit from the EU in 2019.
The Commission’s draft proposals instructed Britain to “abstain, during the transition period, from any action or initiative which is likely to be prejudicial to the [European] Union’s interests”, and provided for the bloc to suspend Britain’s trade access without reference to the European Court of Justice in the interests of saving time.
Asked about the proposals on the BBC’s Daily Politics, Remain-supporting junior trade minister Greg Hands MP initially refused to say whether Theresa May’s government would accept such sanctions, but pressure from Brexit supporters like Rees-Mogg appears to have forced her to adopt a harder line.
“Sorry to interrupt, but you simply won’t address any of the questions I am asking you” @afneil “My question was quite clear”
— BBC Daily Politics and Sunday Politics (@daily_politics) February 7, 2018
Benjamin Griveaux, a French politician and spokesman for President Emmanuel Macron’s La République En Marche! party, said there was “no question of punishing anyone with regards to Brexit… that’s the worst thing that could happen.”
“I think it’s unreasonable of Mr. Barnier to expect that we would just roll over,” commented Rees-Mogg.
It is thought that the Commission was forced to remove the ‘punishment clause’ after as many as 12 member-state governments rebelled against the proposal, scared that it would cause the EU’s negotiations with Britain to fail and precipitate a clean Brexit with no transition period — depriving the bloc of British funding and inflicting substantial damage on its exporters, for whom Britain is their single largest market.
“Could anyone accept these terms?” remarked one exasperated European diplomat.
“If I was Britain I would be tempted to say ‘no’ — walk away and then see how the EU does without the money.”