James Forsyth James Forsyth

Michel Barnier plays hardball on Brexit

Michel Barnier, the Commission’s Brexit negotiator, has been giving a running commentary on Brexit this morning. Barnier, striking a predictably tough stance before the negotiations start, said that he wants the divorce aspects of the Article 50 deal concluded by October 2018, to give sufficient time for ratification. This, essentially, means that there’ll be one year of negotiations from after the German elections next autumn.

But Barnier’s position is that only once this deal has been agreed, can talks move on to what the future relationship between the UK and the EU will be. In other words, no talks on trade until the exit process has been agreed. He emphasised that there will be no cherry picking and that the four freedoms are indivisible. But he did open the door to a transition agreement if the UK is clear about the future relationship it wants with the EU.

Barnier was also keen to emphasise that the EU 27 would remain united, negotiating as a bloc. Certainly, the EU 27 is doing that at the moment—no one is entering into pre-negotiations with the UK government. But there is a question mark over whether this will last all the way through the exit process.

One minister, who supported Remain, remarked to me the other day that the election of Donald Trump, with his ambiguous attitude to Nato, and the Russophile François Fillon emerging as the favourite for the French Presidency had made some of his Eastern European opposite numbers much more friendly towards him.

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