Chief EU Brexit Negotiator: No ‘Punishment or Revenge’ on Our Side

European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, right, speaks with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras during a breakfast meeting at an EU summit in Brussels on June 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

WASHINGTON – Michel Barnier, the chief Brexit negotiator for the European Union, described the costs of Brexit as a “lose-lose game” for the EU and the United Kingdom as well as a “negative negotiation.”

While Barnier personally disagrees with Britain’s decision to leave the EU, he emphasized that there would be no “punishment or revenge” on his side in the negotiation.

“There is no added value to Brexit,” Barnier said during a discussion about the Brexit negotiation on Wednesday at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “Brexiters, none of them have been able, until now, to give me the proof of the added value of Brexit. Brexit is a lose-lose game. This is a negative negotiation, unfortunately, so there really is a cost for everybody, for both sides.”

He continued, “On our side… even at 27 [member states], we will remain a single market, 440 million citizens and consumers, 22 million businesses, working, living, consuming in the same ecosystem, which is our strength today, our main asset – our main asset is the single market.”

Barnier said the UK is leaving 715 international agreements when it formally departs the EU. He predicted that the EU and the UK would finalize a new free-trade agreement and a “customs arrangement” before the final March 2019 deadline. Barnier said the agreement must be “workable” and not create “red tape” for businesses.

“They [UK] leave all of our trade agreements,” he said. “The worst option would be no deal, and we have to be prepared on both sides. On our side, we are preparing ourselves.”

So far, the two parties agree on 80 percent, he added. Barnier elaborated on what he views as the consequences of failing to reach a final agreement before the UK’s formal exit.

“The point is that the UK is leaving and leaving aside a set number of red lines, their red lines, they don’t want to respect, no longer, the Court of Justice, they don’t want to respect the freedom of movement for the people, they don’t want to pay, they don’t want to respect the regulatory framework of the EU and they don’t want to be part of our custom trade policy,” he said. “We have to work on the base of our guidelines, of our mandate.”

Barnier explained that he personally “regrets” the Brexit vote because it’s “better to be together than alone.”

“Never you can find in my attitude any kind of spirit of punishment or revenge. I am, everyday, working with my team to reach a deal, not against the UK, but with the UK, just to be clear,” he said.

Barnier declined to comment on the recent “political” changes in the UK.

“I never comment. My role, even if I follow, carefully, what’s happened in the UK, politically – life is always stimulating. It’s a democracy and I respect Mrs. May. From the very beginning of our relationship and discussions, I’ve taken the time to listen to everybody, and my door is always open, even to Brexiters – Mr. [Nigel] Farage and some others. … I will be ready next Monday to meet the British delegates appointed by Mrs. May and to meet Dominic Raab, the new Brexit secretary.”

Barnier said he plans to review the “details” of the UK government’s white paper on Brexit, which calls for “a principled and practical Brexit” in terms of minimizing economic disruption, crafting a new immigration system, protecting the Northern Ireland peace process, pulling out of EU legislative processes, and promoting British principles in the world such as openness and liberty.

“The white paper is welcome because it proved that now we have work, a clear position for the UK side, as we have already on our side, a clear position,” he said. “There is room for negotiations in the details on a few points: a free trade agreement and a customs arrangement. We are ready to work on these two points.”