Theresa May’s Brexit plan was dealt a blow by the EU today as its chief negotiator said Brussels would not budge in key areas proposed by the UK.
Michel Barnier said he owed “the truth” to people as he told reporters the EU would not change its “principles” in order to strike a Brexit deal.
He also suggested an agreement would not be reached by the next European Council summit – scheduled for October 18th and 19th – and talks might have to carry on into November.
May’s proposal would see the UK effectively splitting the single market, with Britain following EU rules on goods and agri-foods, but not on services and freedom of movement of people.
European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have repeatedly said there can be no “cherry picking” of the single market, and the UK cannot be in some areas of the economic bloc but not others.
Speaking at a press conference alongside the UK’s Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, Barnier was asked if the EU had changed any of its principles in order to secure a deal.
He replied: “Why would we? How can you change principles on which the European Union is based? Why would you? The UK is leaving the European Union, it’s not the other way round.”
Barnier added: “I say this very frankly because I owe the truth to you; on the question of the economic relation there are still areas of disagreement because what is in the white paper contradicts in some areas, and some points, things which are my guidelines, the guidelines of the European Council. On other things there’s convergence.”
Barnier also took a swipe at those in the UK who believe a lack of agreement between the two sides would be the fault of the EU.
“To be very frank I do see a blame game starting against the EU in case of a no deal. The EU will not be impressed by a blame game and everyone should understand that,” he said.
With the UK and EU facing a stalemate over May’s Brexit proposal, both sides have agreed to step up the pace of the talks
Barnier said London and Brussels would “negotiate continuously from now on” – with he and his UK counterpart due to meet again next week.
While negotiations are ongoing in the hope of striking a deal, the UK is stepping up preparations for what would happen if no agreement is reached.
Raab is due to set out the Government’s plans in a speech on Thursday, and the Brexit department will begin publishing a series of technical notices designed to help people and businesses prepare for a no-deal scenario.
In Tuesday’s press conference, Raab played down suggestions the UK would face an economic disaster in the case of no deal, telling reporters: “These hair-raising scare stories are far from the truth.”