Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator has given his first speech since taking office.
While he said it is too early to discuss the details of a UK exit from the bloc, he maintained that there would be ‘no negotiations without notification’; a nod to Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union, which Britain must trigger to begin the divorce process.
“There will be less than 18 months to negotiate,” he said in Brussels. “Once again, that is short. Should the UK notify the Council by the end of March 2017 as Prime Minister Theresa May said she would, it is safe to say that negotiations could start a few weeks later and an Article 50 agreement be reached by October 2018.”
It could be easier said than done. In addition to the UK being the first nation to leave the EU, Monday (December 5) saw the start of a Supreme Court appeal by the British government. It wishes to overturn a High Court ruling that Parliament must vote on starting EU exit negotiations and only it has the authority to begin Brexit talks.
What did Barnier say?
He opened with a general remark.
“We are entering unchartered waters. The work will be legally complex, politically sensitive and will have important consequences for our economies and people on both sides of the channel.”
But then Barnier turned to the more personal. He reportedly blames Britain for losing his job at the Commission years ago, when the French government lost a vote on the European Constitution. Diplomats have suggested he still resents the UK for this, yet he shared an anecdote suggesting support for Britain.
Barnier said he voted for the first time at the age of 20. The vote was a French referendum on the UK’s accession to the European community. “I campaigned for a ‘yes’ vote and I still think today that I made the right choice,” he continued, saying that Europe must now deal with the Brexit vote and “organise an orderly withdrawal.”
He’s visited 18 of the soon-to-be 27 EU member states and will have been to the remaining 9 by the end of January, at the request of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
Further preparation has been based around four key points, he added.
This, Barbier said, is the strength of the EU and he said he was determined to preserve it and the interest of the other 27 nations during the Brexit negotiations.
2) EU membership comes with rights and benefits. Other ‘third countries’ can never have the same rights and benefits.
3) No negotiations before notification.
4) The four freedoms of the EU are indivisible. Cherry picking the ones that best suit a country is not an option.