Key elements of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Chequers plan for Brexit are “not acceptable” to Brussels, the EU’s chief negotiator has told MPs.
But a transcript of Michel Barnier’s evidence to the House of Commons Exiting the EU Committee showed that he did not describe the blueprint agreed at the PM’s country residence in July and set out in the Government’s Brexit White Paper as “dead”, as Labour MP Stephen Kinnock claimed earlier this week.
In a hearing of the committee in Westminster on Wednesday, Mr Kinnock broke into French to tell Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab that the EU negotiator had told them “les propositions sont mortes” - “the proposals are dead”.
“I can tell you absolutely, unequivocally, without a shadow of a doubt that Chequers is dead in the water,” the Labour committee member told Mr Raab. “Michel Barnier made it crystal clear that Chequers is completely unacceptable to the EU.”
But a transcript of Monday’s meeting, held behind closed doors in Brussels, shows that, in response to repeated questioning over whether the proposals were dead, Mr Barnier insisted he was not rejecting them outright.
Asked by committee chairman Hilary Benn whether the Chequers plan was “dead in the water”, Mr Barnier replied: “In the White Paper there are lots of positive things, lots of useful things, just to make that absolutely clear.
“I did not just reject the White Paper outright; that is just not true. I hope that you will understand that.”
However, he made clear that Brussels will not accept Mrs May’s proposals on customs arrangements, as well as her suggestion that the UK and EU could have a free trade area with a common rulebook for goods but not services.
In a translation of his comments released by the committee, Mr Barnier said: “The proposals made in the White Paper on two points are not acceptable as they are, they are not acceptable to the EU - that is the White Paper proposal on customs and the White Paper proposal on the common rulebook for goods.”
On Mrs May’s suggestion that the UK could carry out customs checks on its borders on the EU’s behalf, he said: “Your proposal does not seem workable to us.”