Michel Barnier has said he is unsure of the substance of Boris Johnson’s Brexit plan and the “clever” new prime minister must now decide whether to try to seal a deal or let Britain crash out.
Speaking on Johnson’s first day in office, the EU’s chief negotiator said it was “a very important moment for Brexit”, with the UK due to leave the bloc with or without a deal in just three months.
“We look forward to hearing what the new prime minister, Boris Johnson, wants, what are the choices of the UK,” Barnier said, after his own consultations with the European parliament on the new British leadership.
“Is it an orderly Brexit? … Is it a no-deal Brexit? The no-deal Brexit will never be the choice of the EU, but we are prepared and for an orderly Brexit. We will work along the next few weeks or months with the new UK government in the best possible way, in the very constructive spirit to facilitate the ratification of the withdrawal agreement.”
Asked whether he knew what Johnson would seek from Brussels, Barnier said: “No. We are ready to listen and to work with him in a constructive way. We will wait for the new decision, the new declarations of the UK government.
“I met Boris Johnson once. We spoke once in the past. It was a very particular moment during the opening ceremony of the Olympics of London, fantastic games, so we are waiting now. We will work, we are ready, we will work. I think he is clever. I’m at the disposal of the union. We are ready to work [in August].”
Johnson has said he wants to scrap the Irish backstop from the withdrawal agreement and hold back on paying the UK’s multibillion-pound financial settlement until a free trade deal is agreed. He has warned the UK must leave the EU by 31 October with or without a deal.
Earlier in the day, the European parliament’s Brexit steering group held an “extraordinary meeting” to discuss the developments in London.
A statement from the MEPs, led by the former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt, warned that recent comments “not least those made during the Conservative party leadership campaign, have greatly increased the risk of a disorderly exit of the UK”.
Verhofstadt told reporters the EU would not countenance a fresh negotiation on arrangements to replicate key aspects of the withdrawal agreement and cushion the impact of a no-deal Brexit. The EU insists that a stand-still transition period will only be granted if the withdrawal agreement, including the contentious backstop, is ratified by parliament.
Verhofstadt said: “Politicised language from the Conservative leadership raising the spectre of a no-deal Brexit is unhelpful, irresponsible and only increases the risks of a catastrophic severance, which could destabilise the global economy.
“We are united in the view that a no-deal exit will not be mitigated by any form of arrangements or mini-deals between the EU and the UK.
“Boris Johnson will find the European parliament an open and constructive partner. I look forward to alleviating Mr Johnson’s concerns regarding the imminent accession of Turkey to the EU, following the claims of the leave campaign, whilst explaining the EU has no rules on the packaging of kippers in the UK.”
Michel Barnier says Johnson must decide if UK wants deal or not – The Guardian