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European Commission - Statement

Statement by Michel Barnier at the plenary session of the European Parliament on the Article 50 negotiations with the United Kingdom

Strasbourg, 13 March 2018

Thank you, President Tajani, and thank you, President Juncker, for giving me the opportunity to address the Plenary after this very interesting debate.


Honourable Members,

I am happy to be here to assess the state of play.

In a sovereign vote, the majority of UK citizens chose to leave the European Union. This decision is regrettable, but it is a decision we respect.

And now we are putting that decision into action.

Brexit means Brexit.

But, at this point, I would first like to say two things that should be understood and borne in mind by everyone here and elsewhere.

Firstly, when it comes to the United Kingdom, which has chosen to leave the European Union, we have had - I have always had - and, no matter what comes to pass, we always will have respect for this country, for this great country, for its culture, its people, its history - a history we have shared at the most tragic of times - and its diplomacy; we continue to have all due respect for this great country, a friend and an ally.

Secondly, it is important to understand that in these extraordinary, complex - extraordinarily complex - negotiations, it is our responsibility, your responsibility, the Council's responsibility naturally, the Commission's responsibility under President Juncker, it is our responsibility to safeguard what we are, our Union, our values, our identity, our single market, our shared policies, to safeguard these for the future and for the long term. None of those things are negotiable. They are our responsibility.

Every day, when carrying out my duties, I think of the words of a French statesman, Pierre Mendès-France, for whom I had great respect:

‘Never sacrifice the future for the present'.

This sentiment has just been echoed by Mr Hokmark and Ms McGuinness, who spoke with great conviction.

At this stage of the negotiations, and at the end of this debate, I would like to share three messages with you.

1) We need to approach things in the right order, as we have done from the start.

In order to prepare for and build a new and ambitious partnership with the United Kingdom, the prerequisite is that the UK's withdrawal must be organised in an orderly, not a disorderly, manner. Roberto Gualtieri has stressed this point.

Under the authority of President Juncker, whom I again wish to thank for his trust, the Commission, fulfilling its remit, presented the full draft treaty two weeks ago. Things are now clear. They are tangible.

And now it is time to move forward and speed up the talks with the UK. From now on, we will be working on a legal text.

Because, as Danuta Hübner so rightly said just now, as did President Juncker, time is running out. Time is running out to negotiate the withdrawal agreement, time is running out to negotiate any future relationship, and time is also running out - I must stress this point - for the work that will need to be done in each of our countries and together, with our stakeholders, to prepare for the inevitable consequences of the UK citizens' vote for Brexit. I must point out that, at Commission level, these preparations are also being managed by our Secretary-General, Martin Selmayr, whom I wish to thank.

Time is running out.

In this legal text, there are a number of points that will require particular vigilance, as you have pointed out in your speeches and as you, Guy, have noted in this resolution.

Citizens come first; they are our shared priority. Until the end of this process, that is to say, until the withdrawal agreement is ratified, we will be monitoring closely the guarantees we obtained in December's Joint Report and the actual implementation of the whole set of rights, through simple and non‑costly procedures.

Ms Miranda, you just mentioned - as did Gabriela Zimmer and Barbara Spinelli, Ms Evans and Mr Weidenholzer - the key issue of the rights of British citizens living and working in one of our 27 countries, and the rights of the three and a half million EU citizens, many of whom are students, living and working in the United Kingdom.

As regards all the remaining issues, we also expect a sincere commitment and progress in the coming days from the UK side; these issues include the governance of the agreement, Euratom, I could give many more examples of issues that we have not negotiated fully, issues on which we have not yet reached an agreement, separation-related issues that are crucial to ensure an orderly withdrawal.

Obviously, this also applies to the transition.

We have accepted - and you too have accepted - the UK government's request, made by Theresa May, that a transition period be included in the withdrawal agreement.

Clearly, during this short period of time, and in accordance with Article 50, all EU rules must continue to apply with no distinction.

For example, a citizen who arrives during the transition period must benefit from the same rights as someone who arrived before Brexit day.

2) My second point is one referred to in your resolution on our future partnership. In the resolution, you set out how this ambitious partnership with the United Kingdom could look in terms of its structure and content; in a few days' time, the European Council will do the same under the authority of Donald Tusk. Guy Verhofstadt spoke about building the future association with this great country on four pillars, and I agree with the structure that you are proposing.

Firstly, our trade relations - Mr Sulik just referred to trade - clearly it is necessary to have a structure for these trade links and to continue to do business with the United Kingdom. And, as Mr Vandenkendelaere, Mr Millan Mon and Ms Miranda mentioned, this trading relationship should include a balanced fisheries agreement.

Secondly, cooperation in various specific areas. Mr Lopez Aguilar brought up aviation, and Mr Peter van Dalen referred to research and universities. I could mention Erasmus. We will have a financial and regulatory framework that is different from what we have today, given that the United Kingdom has chosen to leave the European Union. We will establish a framework for cooperation to continue this work with the UK in the common interest.

The third area is cooperation on justice and home affairs, and police and judicial cooperation.

And lastly, of course, a strategic partnership with this great country on foreign, security and defence policy.

As regards the first pillar, economic cooperation, right now all the cooperation models with third countries are still on the table. They are available.

We are open for business. It's the UK that is closing doors.

I listened with great interest to Theresa May's Mansion House speech where she confirmed which doors the UK itself is closing, objectively speaking, confirming its red lines. Exiting the internal market, leaving the customs union. Elmar Brok just referred to this red line, as did Esteban Gonzalez Pons. Regaining autonomy on regulation and trade, these are points that several of you just mentioned. Never again being bound by the Court of Justice. These are the red lines that the UK has confirmed.

And we have taken that on board. But we must therefore face facts. It is not possible to want third-country status and at the same time ask for benefits that belong to the Union, and only to the Union, as [mentioned by] Philippe Lamberts, who called for this clarification. It is not possible - it will not be possible - to have an à la carte internal market, as Mr Lenaers and Mr Danti stressed; the internal market is an integrated ecosystem and the four freedoms, including the freedom of movement, are indivisible and inextricably linked.

It is not possible to want to be part of our agencies without undertaking a legal commitment to adopt and implement EU law and the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice.

It is not possible - it will not be possible - to ask from the outside for mutual recognition of rules and standards, as that can only be based on trust, meaning common laws, joined-up oversight and a single jurisdiction.

And, Honourable Members, Mr President, it would indeed be somewhat surprising if the 27 members of the EU and your Parliament were to accept some sort of convergence when that is what the United Kingdom wants, and at the same time allow the UK to diverge when that would give it a competitive advantage.

To coin a phrase, it is time to face up to hard facts.

Mr Ferreira just now, and Mr Lange and Ms Scott Cato, referred to the issue of the standards in place in the United Kingdom. It will be a sovereign third country. As we are too. This is a very important point and a question I asked a few weeks ago, to which we have not yet received an answer from the United Kingdom.

The UK has chosen to leave the European Union, the single market and the customs union.

And we have taken that on board. Does it also want to abandon or move away from our regulatory model? The same model that we have patiently built together with you, and you with us, for the last 44 years. A regulatory model that is not only a question of rules, standards and laws. Because behind that model there are societal choices, choices that we made together. The social market economy, social protection, security and a certain food production model, financial regulation. I could give other examples of these joint societal choices that we have made as 28 and which are set out in, and shored up by, this regulatory model.

And this is a very important issue. Does the United Kingdom also want to move away from the model that we built with the UK and pursue a path of regulatory competition, possibly even dumping, against us?

I should mention that this issue is not only important for the economy itself and for citizens and consumers. It is also very important in terms of the political conditions for the ratification of any future agreement on the relationship between us and the United Kingdom because, on that day, the European Parliament will have its say, as will the Council, and so will the 27 national parliaments, requiring a unanimous decision, and certain regional parliaments may possibly ratify the agreement too. And, on this issue of divergence, and the risk of dumping, I recommend that from now on you keep a close eye on the conditions for this ratification.

3) Lastly, and this is my final point, there is the question of Ireland. This is a pivotal issue, at the very heart of what we are, as the European Union, and what Brexit represents and what it means. This issue was raised by Ms McGuinness, who spoke with great conviction. We all know that the EU has had a role to play, has stood for dialogue and peace in Ireland, bringing people together and looking towards a shared future. Putting in place the conditions for stability and dialogue between communities that were once divided.

The EU is not responsible for the consequences of Brexit. But it is responsible for this cooperation, this stability and this shared future. That is why, as many people wanted, a robust and long-lasting agreement on Brexit - I must stress this point - a robust and long-lasting agreement on Brexit, on an orderly withdrawal, must include a robust and long-lasting solution for Ireland and for Northern Ireland. This is what is set out in the protocol we proposed in the draft withdrawal agreement.

This option, this third option that we have set out, is part of the joint commitments between us and the United Kingdom, made at the highest level, namely Theresa May, President Juncker and Donald Tusk. And this document simply sets out one of the options in December's Joint Report. As I already told you, Ms Dodds, when we met in my office a few days ago. I also said the same to Mr Nicholson, whom I always listen to carefully. It is one of the options - no more, no less - that we have decided to examine in order to put forward practical solutions. It is our responsibility to explain how, in operational terms, we will avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland in the absence of other solutions and taking into account the UK's decision to leave the market and to leave the customs union.

And I will keep repeating this; this ‘backstop' solution, one of three, is one we are willing to replace if the UK government puts forward a better solution, as Mr Carthy and Richard Corbett just mentioned.

In conclusion, President Tajani, Minister, Honourable Members, I simply want to confirm that what makes us strong in these negotiations is the solidity, the clarity of the EU's position, and our unity when it comes to the withdrawal issues and the future.

Obviously, this clarity, this solidity, would not be possible without the trust you place in our negotiating team, in your negotiating team. And as I told theBrexit Steering group, and as I told Guy Verhofstadt, we will continue to work in permanent dialogue with you and in a fully transparent manner.

I wish to thank you, President, and Guy, and all of the members of the Brexit Steering Group, and the Presidents of Groups and Committees and your coordinators, for the quality and sincerity of our joint efforts. And I believe that the resolution you will adopt is crucial to the success of the steps that lie ahead of us. Thank you for listening.


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