EU could adapt Brexit position if UK shifts on red lines, says Barnier

Barnier warned 'time is short' to make progress. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
Barnier warned 'time is short' to make progress. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
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The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator has signalled that Brussels is ready to respond to any new proposals coming out of Theresa May’s Cabinet summit at Chequers.

Michel Barnier said that the EU was ready to “adapt” its position if the Prime Minister changed her stated red lines of taking the UK out of the single market, customs union and jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

But he warned “time is short” to make progress ahead of the October European Council at which the UK’s withdrawal agreement and a political accord on future relations are due to be finalised.

Speaking as Mrs May and her Cabinet met at the PM’s country residence to thrash out a White Paper on future UK/EU relations, Mr Barnier said: “There are still too many questions and too few answers.”

The EU negotiator refused repeated requests to comment on the reported contents of Mrs May’s White Paper, insisting he would wait until its expected publication next week.

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But he told the Institute of International and European Affairs in Brussels: “Time is short. We need to quickly have realistic and workable solutions and obviously we look forward to the UK’s White Paper.

“Ideally, the UK’s proposals will facilitate both the UK’s internal political debate and negotiation with us.

“Our objective has always been to find an agreement with the UK, not against the UK.”

Mr Barnier said: “We are ready - I am ready - to adapt our offer should the UK’s red lines change.”

But he stressed: “The single market is our main economic public good. There will be no damaging it, no unravelling what we have achieved together with the UK.”

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Mr Barnier said the UK had “started to engage” with Brussels on a range of topics, saying: “This is welcome and I look forward to further clarity from the UK.

“But we still have a long way to go and we do not have much time. The European Council in October is approaching rapidly.”

Mr Barnier sought to calm down debate on customs arrangements for the Irish border, saying repeatedly he wanted to “de-dramatise” the issue and insisting he had “no intention to create a border in the middle of the UK”.

But he made clear the technological “maximum facilitation” solution favoured by hardline Brexiteers would not be acceptable to Brussels on its own.

“’Max fac’ and technological means can be useful, but it is not enough,” he said.

Mr Barnier said he respected the decision of the UK to leave the EU, but made clear he personally regretted it and did not believe that either side would gain from it.

“Brexit is a loser’s game,” said the EU negotiator. “There is no added value to Brexit. It is negative negotiations, unfortunately.”