The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator slammed the door shut on hopes the UK could get easy access to the European single market, warning that “frictionless trade” was “not possible”.
Michel Barnier said Brexit would be a “lose/lose situation” for both sides and the UK could not avoid “negative” consequences of leaving the EU.
He had a particularly stark warning for livestock farmers, who were told that 100 per cent of live animals and animal products for export would be checked at the EU border after Brexit.
Mr Barnier’s comments will raise the stakes of trade negotiations and attempts to keep the Northern Irish border open, as well as casting doubts on the Brexit policies of the government and opposition.
Prime Minister Theresa May has said she wants trade with the remaining EU to be “as frictionless as possible”, while Brexit Secretary David Davis has suggested a new trade deal will deliver the “exact same benefits” as single market membership.
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Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn revealed he would meet Mr Barnier next week to set out Labour’s position on Brexit in the event of another snap election that puts him into Downing Street.
Mr Corbyn said: “Fundamentally we want to make sure there’s tariff-free trade access to the European market, that’s crucial.”
The Scottish Government’s Brexit minister, Michael Russell, said Mr Barnier had “burst the ideological bubble” on post-exit trade.
He added: “I am all for being ambitious in negotiations but it is time for the Tories and Labour to be honest with the public and business about the path they are determined to pursue. These comments from Barnier make abundantly clear that this concept of ‘frictionless’ trade outside of the single market and the customs union is simply a figment of Tory and Labour imaginations.
“It is time that the Tories put the economy first, and accepts what the Scottish Government, the business sector and many others have been telling them for the last 12 months – that the only way to receive the benefits of the single market is to remain members of the single market.”
Mr Barnier told an EU committee in Brussels that some of those on the British side have still not understood the EU’s position, and said the UK has “more to lose” than the remaining 27 member states.
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He also said there was “no reasonable justification” for Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal, in a clear rejection of Mrs May’s claim that “no deal is better than a bad deal”.
Failure to reach a deal on the EU-UK relationship would mean “a return to the distant past”, with trade regulated by World Trade Organisation rules which would impose tariffs on goods, particularly food and drink exports.
Mr Barnier said: “I have heard some people in the UK argue that one can leave the single market and keep all of its benefits. That is not possible.
“I have heard some people in the UK argue that one can leave the single market and build a customs union to achieve frictionless trade. That is not possible.
“The decision to leave the EU has consequences and I have to explain to citizens, businesses and civil society on both sides of the Channel what those consequences mean for them.
“These consequences are the direct result of the choice made by the UK, not by the EU. There is no punishment for Brexit and of course no spirit of revenge.
“But Brexit has a cost, also for business in the EU27, and businesses should assess with lucidity the negative consequences of the UK choice on trade and investment and prepare to manage that.”