A deal to regulate Britain's exit from the EU was the best way forward, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, insisted on Thursday.
He stood by the deal negotiated with Theresa May's government and rejected twice by the House of Commons, saying the EU was not seeking to punish the UK.
While branding the UK’s decision to leave the EU as a “lose-lose situation” for both sides, Mr Barnier said that an orderly withdrawal could only take place with approval of the deal reached following 18 months of negotiations.
He pointed out that the March 29 departure deadline was chosen by the UK Prime Minister when article 50 (the withdrawal clause) was activated.
Mr Barnier made his remarks when addressing the Committee of Regions' two-day summit being held in Bucharest, Romania.
This consultative body incorporates regional and local governments across the 28 EU member states. Speaking shortly before the UK Parliament was due to vote on whether to delay Britain’s exit from the bloc, Mr Barnier refused to enter into the merits of the matter or dwell on the options ahead, saying this was in the remit of EU leaders to decide.
“I will continue to exercise patience and calm and remain respectful of the UK, its people, and its legislative and parliamentary procedure. I will be waiting in this spirit. If the UK wants to leave in an orderly fashion, then this treaty is the only one available. We need a constructive and positive vote and not a negative against it,” he said.
In his address, Mr Barnier remarked that there was no added value in Brexit.
Nobody has been able to prove to me the added value of Brexit
“Nobody has been able to prove to me the added value of Brexit, not even Mr Farage, (former UKIP leader who led the leave campaign) whom I met various times,” he said.
Throughout his address the chief EU negotiator insisted he was keen to resolve the current impasse with the House of Commons, and start talks on the UK’s future relationship with the EUHe added that the decision of the UK’s parliament to reject the deal twice had made the situation worse and increased uncertainty. Britain, he said, had “underestimated” the “innumerable” consequence of Brexit.
Though the EU regretted this decision it respected it and was obliged to put an agreement on the table to secure an orderly withdrawal, he said. On the issue of the backstop, Mr Barnier allayed concerns fueled by Brexiteers that the EU wanted to keep the UK permanently in the customs unions.
However, he said that in the absence of a solution, this would be a temporary measure.
He added that the border issue was crucial for the EU to safeguard its single market in terms of security, food standards, imports of fake products and tax evasion.
Mr Barnier said he was keen to find a solution on this specific matter, as this was also crucial to safeguard the peace and stability brought about in Northern Ireland by the Good Friday agreement.
Looking ahead he said that main the lesson learnt from Brexit was that countries were better off sharing the burdens together.“You can still be patriotic,” he said.
Earlier, European Council president Donald Tusk tweeted that he would “appeal to the EU27 to be open to a long extension if the UK finds it necessary to rethink its Brexit strategy and build consensus around it”.On Wednesday the House of Commons approved a non-binding motion whereby it declared itself against a no-deal Brexit.
The result was a further blow to beleaguered UK Prime Minister Theresa May, as various members of her Cabinet defied the party whip by endorsing the motion.
Originally the motion tabled by the government was only meant to rule out a no-deal on March 29, thus leaving this possibility open at a later stage. However, this move failed when a number of Conservative MPs backed an amendment meant to remove such option completely from the table.
EU leaders will be meeting next week to decide whether to accept the UK’s request to postpone Brexit. While there has been no official pronouncement on the matter so far, French President Emanuel Macron has already declared that such demand would only be accepted if it would be justified while reiterating that the Brexit deal, which the House of Commons has twice rejected by overwhelming majorities, was no longer negotiable.
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