The draft Brexit deal reached between the EU and London is “fair and balanced,” European Chief Negotiator for the United Kingdom Exiting the EU Michel Barnier said yesterday as the union’s members sparred among themselves and with Britain over any extension of the envisaged transition period.
After briefing the 27 member countries’ EU ministers, Barnier told a news conference that they generally approved of the draft divorce agreement reached last week and that a blank in the document on the end-date for a possible extension of the status quo transition period should be resolved before a summit on Sunday.
“We are in fact at a decisive moment in this process; no one should lose sight of the progress that has been achieved in Brussels and in London,” Barnier said. “The deal is fair and balanced.”
“In particular, member states support the draft withdrawal agreement. The EU side will still have to decide the internal process for agreeing to extend the transition period,” he added.
The transition period is intended to keep the UK subject to EU rules after Brexit — but without a vote on such rules — for long enough to allow details of the future relationship to be negotiated.
Any extension would only be a one-off and must be clearly limited in time, Barnier said.
The view was echoed by the French minister attending the meeting, who said it was important to offer certainty to all those affected by Britain’s withdrawal.
“No deal better than the one on the table can be reached,” German Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth said.
German Federal Minister of Economic Affairs and Energy Peter Altmaier also dismissed any prospect of a return to the drafting table.
Although the fate of the accord is unclear on the British side, the EU is preparing for a summit on Sunday of all its heads of government that is meant to rubber-stamp the agreement.
It is also advancing its contingency planning for the scenario of a no-deal Brexit, in which the sides would fail to seal their agreement and the UK is cut off on March 29 with very little in place to mitigate economic and other disruptions.
“Any deal is better than no deal,” Luxembourgian Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean Asselborn told reporters on arrival in Brussels. “I think that it’s in the interests of the United Kingdom and the European Union...that this deal becomes reality.”
Barnier said that the UK would have to make appropriate contributions to EU coffers if it were to stay in the customs union and single market beyond the currently envisaged end of the transition period at the end of 2020, 21 months after Brexit.
The UK has been saying that any extension would only be “a matter of months,” but has also sought to keep its options open for now.
Barnier insisted that a latest end-date would be agreed this week.
He declined to comment on remarks by diplomats that a final end-date of Dec. 31, 2022, was being discussed by EU negotiators.
EU diplomats have said that date appears the latest that Brussels and the member states could accept.
However, adding that date in the treaty, even as a hypothetical last resort, could anger the Brexit supporters whose votes May needs to pass the deal in the British parliament.
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