EU rebuffs UK request for bilateral no-deal plans

Mr Barclay (left) and Mr Barnier meet to discuss Brexit

The EU has rebuffed British requests to prepare together for a no-deal scenario or to give its approval to bilateral discussions between the UK and individual EU states.

It comes as the UK has in some recent announcements stated readiness to make agreements with the EU or individual states to maintain elements of the status quo to the end of 2020 (the original transition period in the deal) in the event of no-deal. For example the UK has proposed maintaining S1 healthcare arrangements up to this date.

The UK had also recently expressed willingness to discuss ‘ring-fencing’ the citizens’ rights part of the deal, ie. maintaining it as a standalone deal in the event of the full deal failing to be agreed. 

However in the latest exchange of letters between UK Brexit Minister Steve Barclay and EU negotiator Michel Barnier Mr Barnier sticks to the EU’s line that the parties should be aiming for an ‘orderly exit’ with an overall deal and transition period and that the EU states should speak with one voice.

In a letter dated September 25, Mr Barclay said a deal is still possible with “flexibility and creativity on both sides” however it is necessary to protect citizens and businesses for the possibility of no-deal and “there are many areas where we need either to improve our mutual readiness or put in place practical mitigations that work for us both”.

Mr Barclay proposed that EU and UK officials meet for information exchange and to discuss mutual plans to “ensure we meet our objectives”.

“There are a number of areas what would benefit from structured engagement and exchange of information”, he said, including some “operational mattes that we would like to explore jointly” with regard to citizens’ rights.

Mr Barclay also asked the EU to “signal to member states that it does not object to prudent bilateral discussions in areas in which the Commission does not wish or need to act, but where individual member states wish to address risks pertaining to their own arrangements.”

He added: “I would like to be clear that this respects your objection to ‘mini-deals’ outside of our endeavours to get a deal. It is about ensuring that we both understand what each is doing in the event we cannot get a deal, and ensuring that our decisions and practical work help our businesses and citizens prepare”.

Mr Barnier replied on Thursday September 26, noting that the minister had “[called] for bilateral cooperation – at EU and member state level – to manage our ongoing preparedness work for a possible no-deal scenario”.

He said the EU believes that the Withdrawal Agreement is the best way to protect citizens and businesses.

“Every issue raised in your letter, from trade in goods to citizens’ rights and data flows, has already been addressed comprehensively in the Withdrawal Agreement,” Mr Barnier said.

“There is no other way to achieve all the benefits that the Withdrawal Agreement provides.”

He said the EU has already finalised its work on preparing for no-deal, including “six preparedness Communications” and 100 “Brexit preparedness notices”.

It would not enter into any further negotiations with the UK on the matters these deal with.

Mr Barnier added: “The EU has already shown considerable ‘flexibility and creativity’ throughout the negotiations and we are open to consider all legally operative solutions that meet all the objectives of the backstop.”

He said he was looking forward to discussing any “solutions or ideas you may have”.

Following a meeting between the two men on Friday, the European Commisson said in a statement: “Michel Barnier stressed that it is essential that there is a fully operational solution in the Withdrawal Agreement to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, protect the all-island economy and the integrity of the Single Market. 

“The EU remains open and willing to examine any workable and legally operative proposals that meet all these objectives.”

A UK Brexit Ministry spokesman told Connexion today, regarding such proposals: "We will present formal papers when we are ready. We have already shared four technical non-papers and all the main elements of our proposed solutions have already been discussed with the Commission."

Despite the fact the British MPs have passed a law which aims at avoiding a no-deal on October 31 by obliging the Prime Minister to ask for a three-month extension, this does not rule out a no-deal in the event of the EU refusing this and it would only take one EU state leader to veto an extension.  What is more the Prime Minister is reported to be seeking all possible avenues to avoid asking for it. It also does not rule out a no-deal happening at a later date.

Having said which the world’s largest betting exchange, Befair, thinks a no-deal in 2019 is now unlikely.

It is giving odds of 5/1 that there will be a no-deal Brexit in 2019 and 1/6 that there will not.

This means if you bet £1 that there will not be a no deal Brexit in 2019 and you are correct, you win £1.17 but if you bet there will be a no-deal Brexit in 2019 and you are correct you win £6.

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