Michel Barnier says ‘not one’ EU leader supports Brexit, but EU27 won’t fight it

In an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro and seven other European newspapers, Mr Barnier said: “I do not think there is – within the European Council – a single leader who supports Brexit. “We, especially Donald Tusk, regret the choice of the British people,”. Asked to comment on France’s refusal to commit to a long Brexit extension, which it has finally caved in to, he said: “Emmanuel Macron believes that we cannot give the impression that we are delaying [Brexit] or reluctant to implement the will of the British people.”

He continued: “I once told Nigel Farage during a plenary session in the European parliament that no one wants to ‘steal’ Brexit. No one, on the European side, is trying to stop Brexit.”

Mr Barnier also commented on the draft exit deal and the UK’s future commitments, saying that London would face a “proportional” response if it sought to scale back core social, environmental and consumer standards after the divorce.

The EU and UK agreed to negotiate a “balanced and operational” free-trade agreement as part of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s new Brexit deal, but Mr Barnier said that tariff and quota-free access to the EU market were linked to upholding regulatory standards.

He stressed: “The agreement we are ready to discuss is zero tariffs, zero quotas, zero dumping. Access to our markets will be proportional to the commitments taken to common rules. And the UK will have to respect these rules.”

Mr Barnier added that the Brexit transition period could be extended by “maximum two years,” but that the UK would have to pay a “proportional” contribution to the EU budget if it were to remain in the single market beyond 2020.

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Asked what lessons he had learned from Brexit, he said that “the UK is not the only country where there are problems.”

“Populist movements are present everywhere in Europe. We need to draw lessons from the social anger simmering in regions where there are no jobs; where people feel poorly protected or not protected at all, where there are no public services.”

Mr Barnier, who said the bloc was “obliged to be patient” with Britain over Brexit, now has a one-year renewable mandate to oversee the bloc’s future ties with the UK.

EU leaders are keen to end “this negative negotiation of separation and divorce and to open a new page on the future relations. And we are preparing for this. We are ready for this,” he said, adding that Brexit had “created greater unity among the EU27”.

The bloc approved on Monday a third delay to the divorce that was originally supposed to take place on March 29, but the UK remains divided over how, or indeed whether, to go ahead with Brexit.

After nearly four years of bickering, almost all politicians now agree an early election is needed to break the Brexit deadlock.

Mr Johnson, who had pledged to take the UK out of the EU on October 31 “do or die,” called for a December 12 election after parliament blocked his attempts to ratify the 11th-hour divorce agreement struck with the EU earlier this month.

His bill calling for an election was approved 438 to 20 in the House of Commons. It must now be approved by the House of Lords.

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“It’s time to unite the party and get Brexit done,” Mr Johnson said after a meeting with conservative lawmakers.

Before the vote, Mr Johnson accused parliament of holding up the Brexit process and thus hurting the economy by preventing investment decisions. 

The Christmas election will be unpredictable: voters will have a choice between a determined Mr Johnson pushing for his Brexit deal or a socialist government under Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, which could seek to hold a second referendum.


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