Downing Street has hit back at the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator deliberately trolled the UK by referencing the Second World War in his first press conference.
Speaking in Brussels today, Michel Barnier told Theresa May: “We are ready, keep calm and negotiate.”
The EU official repeated the phrase twice, to drive home the pointed reference to the British pre-WWII campaign “keep calm and carry on” poster designed to prepare the population for war.
A No.10 spokesman, asked directly if Barnier had been “trolling” the prime minister, said: “We’re entering the negotiations in the spirit of good will. And we will do it calmly.”
Barnier revealed today the UK will have less than 18 months to negotiate its exit from the EU and that a deal would have to be done by October 2018.
He said it would not be possible for May to strike an agreement that was more beneficial to the UK than EU membership.
May has said she will trigger Article 50 - the formal process of Brexit - by the end of March 2017. This starts the clock on a two year countdown to Brexit by April 2019.
Barnier said this would leave 18 months for London to negotiate the terms of its exit with Brussels, as the remaining time would be needed for the EU and UK parliaments to ratify the deal.
The prime minister’s spokeswoman said: “We will trigger Article 50 no later than the end of March next year. There’s then a two-year time-frame for that process. We are not seeking to extend that process. And in terms of how long the negotiations take place ... it would not be for me to put a timeframe on it”.
EU sets out its 4 negotiating principles:
Setting out his negotiation strategy, Barnier warned the UK there would be no “cherry-picking” the parts of EU membership it liked without accepting any of the parts it did not.
“Being a member of the EU comes with rights and benefits. Third countries can never have the same rights and benefits. Since they are not subject to the same obligations,” he said. “The single market and its four freedoms are indivisible.”
The four freedoms are the free movement of people, goods, capital and services.
Brexit secretary David Davis last week suggested the UK could continue to pay into the EU budget after Brexit in order to secure the “best possible access” to the single market for British business.
Barnier said it was possible the UK could adopt the model used by Norway, which has access to the single market but no say in the EU’s rules which govern it. Norway pays the EU for this arrangement.
We are ready, keep calm and negotiate Michel Barnier
Barnier said today: “It’s up to the UK to tell us what they have in mind there. And then it’s up to us, the 27, to reposed to that to say what we are prepared to conceive of for our future with the UK.
He also told EU governments not to allow the UK to divide the remaining 27 members states. “Unity is a strength of the EU,” he said. “It is much better to show solidarity than to stand alone.”
He added: “I do not know what a hard or a soft Brexit are. I can say what a Brexit is.
“All in all there will less than 18 months to negotiate. That is short. Should the UK notify the council by the end of March 2017 as the prime minister has said she would. It is safe to say that negotiation could start a few weeks later. And an Article 50 agreement be reached by October 2018.”
May is facing a rebellion this week from Tory MPs over her refusal to provide more detail about her Brexit strategy. On Wednesday, Labour force a Commons vote on a motion demanding May set out her plan for leaving the European Union before triggering Article 50.