Barnier: UK ‘Cannot’ Refuse to Extend Transition If It Will Not Submit to EU Brexit Demands

Chief EU negotiator for Brexit, Michel Barnier addresses a press conference at the end of a general affairs council on Article 50 negotiations with the United Kingdom at the Euroepan Commission in Brussels on March 19, 2019. (Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP) (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty

The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator says the British government “cannot” refuse to extend the Brexit-in-name-only “transition” period if it will not submit to the bloc’s demands in the current negotiations.

Michel Barnier, a former French foreign minister, has expressed his irritation that the United Kingdom, which formally left the EU in January but remains subject to its law, its judges, and its Free Movement migration regime while the 2020 “transition period” negotiations are conducted, is — for now — refusing to extend it.

“The United Kingdom cannot impose this very short calendar for negotiations and at the same time not move, not progress on certain subjects that are important for the European Union,” he said.

Implicit in the Frenchman’s statement is an assumption not only that the 2020 negotiations must end in a “future partnership” being agreed, but that this “future partnership” must satisfy the EU’s demands — which he said centred on a so-called “level playing field”, and, according to Bloomberg, “the governance of the future partnership, judicial co-operation, and access to fishing waters.”

In practical terms, this appears to mean the British agreeing not to make its tax regime or regulatory environment more competitive than the EU’s, letting the EU’s judges adjudicate the “partnership”, agreeing to remain subject to the European Court of Human Rights in perpetuity, and allowing EU vessels to continue taking a majority of the fish in Britain’s territorial waters at the expense of the much-abused British fishing industry.

“The EU will not agree to any future economic partnership that does not include a balanced, sustainable and long-term solution on fisheries,” Barnier insisted — rather undermining the long-standing claims of EU loyalists that fisheries are a side issue and that the enormous downsides of EU control over them for Britain are comparatively unimportant.

“We will not make progress on the so-called ‘level playing field’ and the governance provisions until the EU drops its insistence on imposing conditions on the UK which are not found in the EU’s other trade agreements and which do not take account of the fact that we have left the EU as an independent state,” the British government responded in a statement quoted by Bloomberg — an uncharacteristically robust response, compared to the constant retreat and compromise of the Theresa May administration.

“We regret that the detail of the EU’s offer on goods trade falls well short of recent precedent in free trade agreements it has agreed with other sovereign countries,” confirmed a government spokesman in comments reported by the left-wing Guardian.

“This considerably reduces the practical value of the zero-tariff, zero-quota aspiration we both share,” he added — strongly suggesting that the British government is coming to believe that a reversion to standard World Trade Organization (WTO) terms with the EU would be preferable to the sort of bilateral agreement the bloc is proposing.

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