Michel Barnier, the European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator, has warned a transition period after Brexit in March 2019 is “not a given”.
Speaking in Brussels on Friday, Barnier also said the UK’s decision to leave the EU single market and customs union will mean Northern Ireland border checks are “unavoidable”.
In a swipe and Brexit secretary David Davis, Barnier added he had not been in the least bit “discourteous or vindictive” during the negotiations.
The UK has asked for a transition period expected to last from 29 March 2019 to roughly December 2020.
Barnier confirmed today that the UK would be expected to “accept all the rules and the obligations” of single market access until the end of transition “including any new rules or decisions that might emerge during that period”.
And he warned “the transition is not a given” if arguments within the British government over what it wanted continued.
Davis has said accepting new rules during transition which the UK would not have a say in creating is a price worth paying in exchange for being able to being signing new trade deals.
As an EU member state, the UK is not allowed to negotiate independent free trade agreements with other countries.
However Brexiteer Tories, including Jacob Rees-Mogg, are deeply unhappy with the plan and have warned it would leave the UK as a “vassal state” unable to block any new rules the EU may decide to impose.
Barnier said today: “The time has come to make the choices. The sooner the UK makes its choices the better.
He added: “I have some problems understanding the UK’s position. It is the UK that asked for this period.”
Both the UK and EU have said they do not want to see a so-called hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland amid fears it would endager the peace process.
However Barnier said it was “important to tell the truth” that if the UK decides to leave the single market and the customs union border checks would be “unavoidable”.
“The UK has committed to proposing specific solution to the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland - we are waiting for such solutions,” he said.
Barnier added the proposals needed to be “precise, clear and unambiguous”.
Davis last night said the EU was being “discourteous” after a leaked memo revealed Brussels would consider cutting the Britain’s access to the single market during transition if the UK broke any rules.
But Barnier said today it was “quite usual” for the UK to “accept all the rules and the obligations” of single market access “until the end of transition”.
“Throughout these negotiations, my attitude has not been in the least discourteous or vindictive. We don’t wish to punish the UK. It’s totally foreign to my state of mind,” he said.