UK heading for no-deal Brexit unless Boris Johnson keeps his promises, Michel Barnier warns
The EU’s chief negotiator said Brexit remained a ‘lose-lose’ project.
Britain is heading for a no-deal Brexit unless Boris Johnson keeps the promises he made when he signed last year’s withdrawal agreement, the EU’s chief negotiator has warned.
Michael Barnier said the bloc’s 27 member states did not have “a short memory”, as he accused the Prime Minister of “taking a step back” from key pledges in the political declaration signed by the two sides.
The UK and Brussels are currently at loggerheads amid talks on their post-Brexit relationship.
Key sticking points including access to fishing waters, the role of the European Court of Justice in settling disputes, and the EU’s call for a series of “level playing-field” commitments to maintain rights and standards.
Speaking to The Sunday Times, Mr Barnier said: “The UK has been taking a step back — two steps back, three steps back — from the original commitments.
“The UK negotiators need to be fully in line with what the Prime Minister signed up to with us. Because 27 heads of state and government and the European parliament do not have a short memory.
“We remember very clearly the text which we negotiated with Boris Johnson. And we just want to see that complied with. To the letter.
"And if that doesn’t happen there will be no agreement.”
But Britain has accused the EU of failing to offer a free trade deal along the lines of those it has previously struck with countries such as Canada and Japan.
Boris Johnson’s chief negotiator David Frost has said Brussels is instead pitching a “low-quality trade agreement coming with unprecedented EU oversight of our laws and institutions”.
Mr Barnier has in turn demanded more “constructive engagement” from the UK, and has said there is “no automatic entitlement to any benefits that the EU may have offered or granted in other contexts and circumstances to other, often very different, partners”.
"I think we have a joint responsibility in this very serious crisis" - Michel Barnier
And he told The Sunday Times: “Brexit is lose-lose. Nobody has been able to show there’s any added value to Brexit — not so far. Not even [Nigel] Farage.
“If we don’t get an agreement then that will have even more consequences. And then of course those will be added to the already very serious consequences of the coronavirus crisis.
“So I think we have a joint responsibility in this very serious crisis, which affects so many families ... to do everything we can to reach an agreement and I very much hope that we will do so.”
The Frenchman said the bloc would not agree to a deal that damages the long-term interests of the EU or undermined the “integrity of the single market”.
And he added: “We are less exposed because 7% of our exports go to the UK, whereas for the UK it’s 47% of their exports which come to the EU.
"So I think that it is in the interests of both sides to find an agreement.”
The intervention from the top negotiator came as campaign group Best for Britain published research warning the UK economy will be “exposed to a double economic hit from Brexit and coronavirus” if no agreement between the two sides is struck by the end of the current transition period.
The analysis, carried out by the Social Market Foundation, says the disruption would be particularly acute in England’s North West and Midlands because of their high proportion of jobs in hard-hit sectors including manufacturing and finance.
The researchers say leaving without a deal would likely mean the Government needing to bring in a fresh economic stimulus package to prop up struggling industries - a move they warn will be difficult given the already-sharp spike in government borrowing needed to tackle Covid-19.
Best for Britain CEO Naomi Smith said: “The data is clear: when you scratch beneath the surface, so many key sectors will be exposed to a dangerous double whammy of economic hits.
“When you map these findings onto the UK’s geography, it shows that particular areas of Britain, such as the North West and Midlands regions, will be disproportionately harmed.
"These include many former ‘red wall’ seats that switched from Labour to the Conservatives at the last election.
“With public debt spiralling, the Government is boxing itself into a fiscal corner unless it extends the transition period and secures a trade deal at the end of the ongoing negotiations.”
Seizing on the report's findings, the SNP’s Shadow Brexit spokesperson Dr Philippa Whitford said: “Rather than ploughing ahead with its reckless Brexit obsession, the Tory government must step back from the brink and prioritise people’s safety, their livelihoods and the economy.”
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