The European Union’s (EU) chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, told the United Kingdom that there’s an urgent need for a more realistic position on its withdrawal as he insisted the bloc’s courts must have a say in governing the final deal.
In a speech in Estoril, Portugal, last Saturday, Barnier warned that time was slipping away if Britain wanted to agree on the basis of its future relationship with the EU before it leaves next March.
The Frenchman’s latest intervention is a further sign the European Union is ratcheting up the pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May five weeks before a crunch Brexit summit.
“We want an ambitious partnership with the United Kingdom but for that we need realistic proposals from the UK,” Barnier said in remarks released ahead of the speech. “If we want to lay the foundation for our future relationship before the withdrawal of the United Kingdom, we must accelerate.”
The UK-EU negotiations are set to end in October to allow enough time for the agreements to be approved by the British and European parliaments before Brexit day.
That gives parties five months to solve two of the thorniest issues: how to keep the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland invisible and how to police the treaty in any future dispute. They also want to set out in that time a framework for future ties that will form the basis of a full trade negotiation.
The EU is concerned the UK still lacks a firm position on every aspect of Brexit. A European Union official this week described some of the government’s ideas as “ fantasy,” and warned that its ideas for the Irish border are unacceptable.
May has managed to bridge some of the divides in her cabinet over the UK’s post-Brexit customs arrangements, which will probably see Britain remain closely aligned to the EU’s customs union—without being in it—for several years after leaving. The European Union has warned that this won’t solve the Irish border problem.
Barnier underscored the importance of the need to agree on the governance of the Brexit treaty if there’s going to be an overall deal. He insisted on a role for the European Court of Justice. Removing Britain from jurisdiction of EU courts is a red line for May, although the government has softened its stance in some areas, including by allowing the ECJ to protect the rights of EU citizens resident in the UK before Brexit.
Both sides agree that a joint committee should oversee the Brexit deal, but they disagree on how it would work. The EU wants the involvement of its court system, while the UK wants the committee itself to be the final arbiter.
But such an approach would be “tantamount to replacing the jurisdictional application of the rules of law with a political settlement, which is unacceptable,” Barnier said, adding that the EU won’t accept “any jurisdiction other than the Court of Justice of the European Union” to interpret European Union law.
There is dismay among UK officials that the EU has made public its dissatisfaction over Britain’s negotiating positions. Britain wants the European Union to make more compromises and show more flexibility in order to reach the deal that both sides want.
Barnier said there’s still time for the UK to water down some of its red lines if it wants to have stronger ties to the European Union in future, but the government needs to be clearer about its position. He added that British politicians mustn’t blame the European Union if the United Kingdom doesn’t get what it wants out of the negotiations.