European Chief Negotiator for Brexit Michel Barnier debated Brexit negotiations with European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) members.
At the outset of the debate with EESC members that took place yesterday, Michel Barnier stated that “Brexit means uncertainty. Uncertainty for citizens, businesses and jobs”. He stressed that his task was to negotiate on the basis of what the United Kingdom put on the table, which included no free movement for EU citizens, full autonomy of laws, no role for the European Court of Justice and the autonomy to sign free trade agreements. The latter involves leaving the customs union and the single market.
However, he also claimed that there was one certainty, namely that the UK would become a third country, and this would entail three main consequences. Firstly, that the basic freedoms – free movement of people, goods and capital – are indivisible. Secondly, there is no option for a sector by sector participation in the Single Market. Thirdly, the EU will maintain its own independence in setting economic and social rules and standards that all third parties must respect.
According to those present at these discussions, the United Kingdom and the EU should be aware that Brexit has a cost and it is the task of the negotiating team to keep this cost as low as possible. Michel Barnier added that the EU must be ready even for the worst-case scenario: no deal.
Members of the European Economic and Social Committee voiced their concerns on many aspects, including consumer rights, social rights or the trade policy. Irish and Northern Irish members raised the issue of the Good Friday Agreement.
Luca Jahier, President of the EESC’s Various Interests Group stated that “A bad deal is better than no deal, we need to achieve a deal at any cost, because nobody voted to become poorer, nor for the end of the Irish peace process.”
Regarding business investments, the discussions dealt with how Brexit could jeopardise business relations, particularly as uncertainty is a disruptive factor for businesses.
Gaby Bischoff, President of the Workers Group referred to the fact that 4 million workers are affected by Brexit. She stressed that “we cannot accept that people could be used as bargaining chips.”
Michel Barnier stressed that the EU too wanted a fair and balanced deal, and that failure to reach a deal would be the worst option, as it would mean reverting to a distant past, including trading relations with the UK regulated by WTO rules, making products more expensive.
EESC members agreed with Michel Barnier that although Brexit is important and a good deal is in the interest of both the 27 and the UK, the most important thing is the future of Europe.