Michel Barnier Statement – 19 March 2018

Following the latest round of negotiations, Michel Barnier made the following statement on the 19 March 2018.

Brussels, 19 March 2018

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am happy to be here, with David Davis, following the intensive negotiations which took place in Brussels over the last few days – and even nights. At the beginning of this press conference, I want to personally thank the members of the two delegations, who have worked ardently under the coordination of Sabine Weyand and Olly Robbins. I would also like to personally acknowledge the commitment and competence of all of the UK negotiating team.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As I have said several times before, we are working on an international agreement between the UK and the EU. We attach to this the precision, rigour and legal certainty that is required for all international agreements.

What we are presenting to you today with David is a joint legal text, which marks, to my mind, a decisive step, because we agreed this morning – after long days of work – on a large part of what will make up the international agreement on the UK’s orderly withdrawal.

A decisive step remains a step. We are not at the end of the road. A lot more work is needed on important topics, in particular Ireland and Northern Ireland. I will present this decisive step on Friday at the European Council, on the invitation of Donald Tusk, and sitting alongside Jean-Claude Juncker.

Before this, I will meet tomorrow the ministers of the 27 Member States, on behalf of whom I negotiate, at the General Affairs Council (Article 50). I will also meet tomorrow the Brexit Steering Group of the European Parliament. On Wednesday, on the invitation of Jean-Claude Juncker, I will provide an update on the negotiations to the College of the European Commission.

But it is the European Council on Friday that will evaluate and judge the state of the negotiations.

For my part, on behalf of the Union, I will continue to regularly brief you on the negotiation, in full transparency. It is following this transparency that we published, on 28 February, a full draft Withdrawal Agreement, which we naturally discussed beforehand with the Member States and the European Parliament. And on 15 March, two weeks later – just two weeks – we completed a revised and consolidated version of the draft, integrating the comments of the Member States and the European Parliament.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It was on the basis of this draft agreement that, over the past few days, we continued and intensified our work between the British team and our team. We have jointly published this morning a new version of the draft in three colours and I would like to now show you what the entire text looks like:

  • In green, the points on which there is formal agreement between the negotiators.
  • In yellow, the points on which we have reached a political agreement, but further clarifications are needed in the weeks to come.
  • In white, the Union’s proposed text, our text, on which we need to continue discussions, either because we have disagreements or divergences, or because we need more time to get to the bottom of things.

I would like to make four observations on the text:

1) Our discussions over the last few days allowed us to reach a full agreement – I repeat full agreement – on the legal translation of the points agreed in December on citizens’ rights and the financial settlement. This allows us to reassure:

First, the 4.5 million citizens, British and European, who are concerned about and worried by Brexit. Citizens, since day one, have been our priority – and that of the European Parliament and the Member States.

Project managers and beneficiaries of projects financed by the EU budget for the period 2014-2020.

For citizens, we have proposed today in the text an additional option, which would allow people to obtain the new residence status in the UK from the beginning of the transition period.

This option will allow those citizens interested to immediately have legal certainty about their residency rights after the transition period.

2) We reached an agreement on the transition period, on which the December European Council already noted an agreement in principle, following the request by Theresa May in her Florence speech.

The transition will be for a limited period, as requested by the British government and the European Union. During this period, the UK will no longer participate in the decision-making process of the EU, as it will no longer be a Member State as of 30 March 2019. It will maintain nonetheless all the advantages and benefits of the Single Market, the Customs Union, and EU policies, and should therefore also respect all the EU’s rules, as if it were a Member State.

We have committed to working during this period in good faith and to continue to respect the principle of sincere cooperation. Finally, we agreed that British citizens and EU27 citizens who arrive [in a new country] during the transition period will benefit from the same rights and guarantees as those who arrived before Brexit day.

I would also like to recall that the time during the transition – as requested by the United Kingdom – will be obviously useful, very useful, for UK administration, and businesses, to prepare for the future, for example, by using the time to negotiate agreements with third countries. This time will also allow us to do our own preparations on the EU side.

Finally, the transition will also be the time for us to finalise our future relationship. It is a short amount of time, and so this negotiation on our future partnership will be intense and demanding. Our intention is to advance as quickly as possible and to begin, as soon as I have a mandate from the European Council guidelines, on all the future relationship topics in parallel. And personally I even think that we will be able to agree during this period on an ambitious future partnership in the areas of foreign policy and external security.

3) On the other separation topics:

I would like to underline the progress that has been made on certain points, such as the winding-up of customs procedures, goods placed on the market and their surveillance, the UK’s commitments vis-a-vis nuclear material or the protection of European trade marks. However, negotiations should continue on other separation topics – which are not negligible – in particular geographical indications, the protection of data and the automatic recognition of judgments.

4) We need to advance – as I said, we are not at the end of the road – on two significant areas of divergence: the governance of the Withdrawal Agreement and questions related to Ireland and Northern Ireland.

On the governance of the Withdrawal Agreement, we first confirmed the agreed solution on citizens’ rights from December. This point has been resolved. But we still need to establish the overall governance on all other topics of the Withdrawal Agreement.

On Ireland and Northern Ireland, we must have a workable and practical solution to avoid a hard border and protect North-South cooperation.

The EU and the UK agreed to include in the withdrawal agreement text published today a note on how the Irish issues will be dealt with.

We have agreed the following:

Both sides remain committed to December’s Joint Report in all its aspects – all. We have agreed that all the issues identified in the EU text must be addressed for finding a viable and legally sound solution.

In particular, we agreed today that a backstop solution must form part of the legal text of the Withdrawal Agreement. We have also agreed on some elements of the Protocol, notably those related to the Common Travel Area and North-South cooperation. As I said several times, the backstop will apply unless and until another solution is found.

This is what I also discussed this morning with the Tánaiste Simon Coveney. We are ready to look at all options which allow us to meet our objectives, in a constructive way. This is what I have underlined, on the same terms, in my recent meetings with the leaders of Sinn Féin, the Democratic Unionist Party and the Ulster Unionist Party. Ireland and Northern Ireland form a distinct strand within the framework of the negotiations of the UK’s orderly withdrawal from the EU. I repeat within the framework of the withdrawal.

In this context, we have agreed with the UK on a detailed agenda for discussions over the coming weeks.

Ladies and gentlemen,

To conclude, I would like to say again that over the past few days, we have completed an essential part of the path towards an orderly withdrawal, on which we have been working – I have been working – since day one.

We are going to continue this work, by keeping in mind that all the points that I have just mentioned will form part of the same agreement and should therefore be agreed together. I would add that legal certainty on all of these points, including the transition, which forms part of this agreement, will only come with the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement on both sides.

Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

On the EU’s side, it is now for Member States to evaluate progress, by adopting at the end of the week guidelines which will allow us to begin, in parallel, discussions with the UK on the framework for the future relationship and partnership.

On its side, following its recent resolutions, the European Parliament will also evaluate the progress.

Thank you for your attention.