Brexit Bulletin: Michel Barnier dashes UK's European Arrest Warrant hopes

James Rothwell
Happier times: Britain's Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis (L), Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May (2-L), European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (2-R) and European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier - AFP

It appears that Michel Barnier could not resist the temptation to rile up the British government with his latest missive on European defence and security.

In a speech today, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator thundered about the UK’s unrealistic ambitions for a security partnership, taking aim at London’s desire to retain the European Arrest Warrant.

“The UK has decided to leave the EU, its institutions, structures and safeguards. It will be a third country outside Schengen and outside the EU's legal order,” he said.

Then, with magisterial flourish, he added: “This is a fact. Facts have consequences.”

The Frenchman went on to complain that there could not be the same level of trust between the UK and EU after Brexit, and that such trust “does not fall from the sky...there is no magic wand.” In closing, he demanded more “realism” from the UK as to what it could reasonably hope to achieve in the negotiations.

One can take little issue with the content of this speech, as Mr Barnier is simply outlining what is possible within the EU’s restrictive, legalistic framework.

But the tone will be like a red rag to a bull in Westminster, where some feel the European Commission is kicking Brexiteers while they are down (for the time being, at least).

After all, the government is a little distracted by internal disagreements over the fine wording of its Brexit strategy, to put it very mildly.

One can only imagine who encouraged Mr Barnier to be so scathing in his latest forensic takedown, though a few names spring to mind.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission is one of them. And the other is Martin Selmayr, his powerful, Iago-esque Secretary General.

Meanwhile: A leaked draft of the conclusions of the June European Council summit suggests there will be no sufficient progress declared on the Withdrawal Agreement.

This is no great surprise. October has long been considered the landing zone for a deal on the terms of withdrawal. But there is now talk that even the autumn date is too optimistic, as the UK is still reluctant to commit to a Northern Irish border solution that creates trade barriers in the Irish Sea.

This has led some to ponder whether we won’t see a final Withdrawal Agreement until December, which would be cutting things very fine indeed.

Strawberrygeddon

Earlier today I spoke to some of the leading lights of the British berry industry, who are very unhappy about the government’s slowness to set up a post-Brexit seasonal workers scheme.

Strawberry growers, for those who’ve never taken a stroll through the British countryside, largely rely on migrant labour from EU countries such as Bulgaria and Romania to pick the delicious fruit. The work is hard - too hard for British workers, it seems - and not suited to layabouts, as those who don’t pick very fast indeed only earn minimum wage (bonuses are handed to speedy pickers).

After Brexit, it will be harder for those Romanians and Bulgarians to come and work here - which has left the strawberry industry feeling rather worried. "Without proper action we will the see the diminishing or disappearing of the British berry industry," British Summer Fruits chairman Nick Marston told me.

He and his fellow berry bosses are calling for the UK to reinstate the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme, which would allow relatively free access to eastern European labour to continue.

But this is politically difficult. Some areas of Britain, particularly the northeast, voted for Brexit as they were seething about how mass migration from eastern Europea has transformed their communities. And that is probably why the government is biding its time, with a detailed seasonal migration scheme unlikely to emerge until after the terms of EU withdrawal are done and dusted.

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