EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier warned Monday, four days before Brexit, that the divorce would have "negative consequences" and that negotiations on the future relationship between London and the 27 would only "limit damage. "
At the start of the week of the historic leap, the European official went in turn to the Republic of Ireland, a member of the EU, then to the British province of Northern Ireland. In these territories, the most exposed to the fallout from divorce, he warned that a new difficult phase was opening.
"It is absolutely clear that there will be negative consequences," said Barnier in a speech at Queen's University in Belfast. "Whatever agreement we reach on our future relationship, Brexit will always be an operation to limit the damage."
The UK's exit from the European Union on Friday at 11:00 p.m. GMT will not mean the end of the crisis opened by the 2016 referendum. It will mark the start of a current transition until the end of the year.
During this period, EU rules will continue to apply on British territory and London and the 27 will have to define the terms of their relations in multiple areas, trade and security in particular.
- Risk of "precipice" -
"We have to rebuild everything," said Barnier at a press conference in Dublin, where he met with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.
"At the end of the year (...), if we do not agree, it will not be the usual routine and the status quo," he continued. "We have to face the risk of being on the brink, especially regarding trade."
In the absence of a commercial agreement, economic relations between Brussels and London would be governed by the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which are much less advantageous because they fix customs duties for goods.
Michel Barnier said he would present a draft negotiating mandate to member states next Monday, after the divorce agreement which regulates the terms of separation.
The European mandate should be approved at ministerial level by February 25, according to European officials, allowing talks to start around March 1.
In a speech scheduled for early February, Boris Johnson must present his ambition to reach a free trade agreement of the same type as that signed by the EU with Canada recently, without alignment with European rules.
But Michel Barnier recalled that "the level of access" to the European single market from which British goods will benefit will be "proportional" to the degree of alignment of the United Kingdom with European rules, "in particular the aid rules State ".
Prime Minister Leo Varadkar for his part estimated that the European Union was approaching the negotiations "in a very strong position": "we are 27 countries, we have a population of 450 million people and the single market is the first world economy ", he said.
The leader, who plays his maintenance at the head of the Irish government during early legislative elections on February 8, also found the timetable "very difficult", while considering "possible (...) to build a very close partnership".
Boris Johnson enshrined in the law implementing the divorce agreement negotiated with the EU, promulgated Thursday in the United Kingdom, the prohibition for his government to request an extension of the transition period after 2020.
In a BBC interview, Leo Varadkar warned against any attempt by London to reach partial deals. However, he undertook to work "day and night" to try to reach a global compromise before the end of the year: "we will not drag our feet".
© 2020 AFP