Michel Barnier tears into Theresa May’s ‘unfair’ Brexit White Paper
Michel Barnier has today pushed back against Theresa May’s latest Brexit offer to Brussels, questioning whether her plan is “workable” or even “legal”.
The EU’s chief negotiator took aim at the Government’s latest proposals on customs and trade, as set out last week in the Brexit White Paper, in a press conference in Brussels.
He said the UK’s plans for tariff collection - the so-called Facilitated Customs Arrangement - would create significant “practical problems,” suggesting that it could lead to fraud and pile extra costs on businesses.
Such a “complex system,” he said, may not even be “legally feasible”.
Mr Barnier also criticised Mrs May’s plans for a common rule book on goods, saying the exclusion of services could give Britain an “unfair” competitive advantage.
While he reiterated his commitment to reaching a deal, the EU chief was adamant the EU was not prepared to accept any compromise that would be detrimental to the bloc’s central institutions.
He said: “Our main aim is to protect the EU’s single market, to protect what we are… Brexit cannot and will not justify additional bureaucracy.”
NORTHERN IRISH BORDER
Mr Barnier also warned that more progress must be made on how the EU’s customs rules will be applied in Northern Ireland without risking the return of a hard border in the region.
He said UK officials had been summoned to an emergency meeting next week to hash out plans for a ‘backstop’ deal on the issue, and revealed that he had outlined the EU’s position in talks with the new Brexit Secretary, Dominic Raab.
He said: “I made it clear yesterday to Dominic Raab that we are not asking for a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, but what we need is checks on goods because the UK wants to leave the single market, the customs union and our common commercial policy.
“We cannot afford to lose time on this issue and this is why we have invited the UK to work on the backstop next week.
“We are open to any solutions. as long as they are workable and can be transformed into a legally operative text in time for the withdrawal agreement.”
Mr Barnier's latest intervention mark futher a blow to the Prime Minister who has received widespread criticism over the details of the White paper - the release of which prompted the resignations of David Davis and Boris Johnson.
Earlier today she defended the plan in a speech in Belfast. “The Government has done that work,” she said. “The white paper is our plan for the future.”
“It is the way to the stronger and brighter tomorrow that I know awaits the whole United Kingdom."
She also reiterated her commitment to avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
She said: “You only have to speak to businesses near the border as I did yesterday to see the notion of a hard border is almost inconceivable.
“Because the seamless border is a foundation stone on which the Belfast Agreement rests allowing for the just and equal treatment for he identity ethos and aspirations of both communities.
“Anything that undermines that is a breach of the spirit of the Belfast Agreement - an agreement which we have committed to protect in all its parts and the EU says it will respect.
“Both sides in the negotiation understand that and share a determination never to see a hard border in Northern Ireland.”