After meeting Michel Barnier and Guy Verhofstadt, I’ve concluded that ‘no deal’ will be better than their deal
Earlier this week, I and a group of cross-party colleagues from the Exiting the European Select Committee visited Brussels for a series of meetings. We met Michel Barnier, the EU’s Chief Brexit Negotiator; Guy Verhofstadt MEP, Chair of the European Parliament’s Brexit Steering Group; and several other senior MEPs.
Having heard what they had to say, I’m afraid I’ve come to the conclusion that the only Brexit deal being offered to us from Brussels would be far worse for the UK than leaving without a deal in March 2019.
Indeed, the only withdrawal deal on offer from the EU would require the UK to agree to the EU’s demands without any guarantee of being able to secure a reasonable future trade deal on terms better than the WTO.
The EU wants to require the UK to agree to its financial demands, to accept that every EU citizen resident in the UK has the right to live in the UK forever and for that right to be extended to parents and children. The EU would also make remaining in the Single Market and Customs Union a pre-requisite to having a frictionless border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
To add insult to injury, the EU’s negotiators are insisting that any future trade relationship should be made conditional upon a whole raft of protectionist and anti-competitive requirements which would severely handicap the UK’s freedom to negotiate genuine free trade deals with the rest of the world.
Furthermore, it was confirmed that no free trade deal can be agreed in parallel with the Article 50 withdrawal agreement because each of the 27 EU countries would have a veto on that deal – and would exercise it if they would otherwise face competition from the UK on tax, employment conditions, safety regulations and relaxation of restrictions on GM crops.
It also became clear to me during our visit that the EU would require that any transitional deal would have to be signed as part of a withdrawal agreement before any agreement was in place on the UK’s future relationship with the EU: during the transitional period, the status quo would prevail with the Single Market, Customs Union and European Court of Justice etc. having the same roles as at present; the UK would have no ability to control EU immigration during that period and would not even have the right to enter into trade deals with other countries.
While the EU negotiators sought to emphasise that they did not want to punish the UK, I find their negotiating stance to be inconsistent with such an assurance.