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Michel Barnier shoots barb at Theresa May over 'frictionless' post-Brexit trade plan

Emilio Casalicchio

2 min read

It is impossible for Britain to quit the EU single market but continue “frictionless” trade with the bloc, the top Brussels negotiator has said in a clear dig at Theresa May.

The Prime Minister said in January she wanted to leave the trading area but keep the movement of goods with the EU “as frictionless as possible”.

Chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier today shut the door to the prospect as he laid out why the UK would end up the bigger “loser” from the process.

“I have heard some people in the UK argue that one can leave the single market and keep all of its benefits. That is not possible,” he told an EU committee in Brussels this morning.

“I have heard some people in the UK argue that one can leave the single market and build a customs union to achieve frictionless trade. That is not possible.”

Mr Barnier said exports on live animals would be subject to border checks and UK businesses spanning the continent might struggle to move parts and people between branches, for example.

And he said he was not convinced the EU's red lines - like on free trade and free movement being indivisible - had “been fully understood across the Channel”.

Mr Barnier claimed the UK will be the hardest hit by Brexit regardless of whether it manages to secure a trade deal or not on its way out.

“No deal would worsen the loser/loser situation which will necessarily be the result of Brexit and objectively the UK would have rather more to lose than its partners," he said.

“There is no reasonable justification for a no deal scenario. There is no reason further to worsen the consequences of Brexit."

In a speech at Lancaster House in January this year, Mrs May laid out her plans to quit the single market - which allows the free flow of goods, services and labour around the continent.

She also vowed to leave the customs union - which sets import tariffs for its members and bans them from negotiating their own better trade deals globally.

Mrs May declared: “I want Britain to be able to negotiate its own trade agreements.

“But I also want tariff-free trade with Europe and cross-border trade there to be as frictionless as possible."

Meanwhile Brexit Secretary David Davis has said a new trade deal with the EU should offer the "exact same benefits" as single market membership.

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