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Dublin: 8°C Wednesday 23 September 2020

Michel Barnier says he will miss Phil Hogan, who he met with weekly as Trade Commissioner

The EU’s Chief negotiator said that the UK side “continues to disappoint” on three main issues in Brexit trade talks.

Image: Blondet Eliot/ABACA

EU CHIEF BREXIT negotiator Michel Barnier has said he would miss Phil Hogan, who relayed “any Irish concerns to me very directly” over the last four years as Ireland’s EU Commissioner.

In an address to the Dublin arm of the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA), Barnier thanked Hogan for his work in both Commissioner roles he held (Agriculture and Trade) and for his team of experts, who were of “great value”, he said.

“I used to meet him once a week as Trade Commissioner. And I look forward to working with the future Commissioner of Irish nationality in the final stretch of the negotiations with the UK.”

Commenting on Ireland’s new EU Commissioner, who is yet to be appointed, he said that he’s sure they will be “very proactive” in defending their portfolio.

“Even though I am French, I have always been close to the Irish concerns. I will never forget my meetings with people on the ground in Ireland and Northern Ireland.”

‘No move’ on Brexit talks

Without going into detail about the Brexit trade talks, Barnier reiterated previous claims that the UK was not cooperating, or “engaging constructively” in talks.

This comes after a meeting with the UK’s chief negotiator David Frost in London yesterday.

Barnier said: “We did not see any change in the position of the UK. This is why I express publicly that I am worried and I am disappointed because, frankly speaking, we have moved.

I’ve shown clearly openness to find compromise.
If they don’t move on the issues which are the key issues of the EU, the level playing field, fisheries and governance, the UK will take itself the risk of a no-deal.”

The three obstacles

The first of three major stumbling blocks in EU-UK trade talks are the level-playing field  provisions, or the sense of “fair play”, as Barnier put it.

“This is particularly important in the area of state aid, where the potential to distort competition using subsidies is significant.”

Citing a number of suggestions of what no level-playing field provision would mean, Barnier said:

  • “British proposals on road transport would allow British truckers to drive on EU roads without having to comply with the same working conditions as EU drivers.
  • “The UK’s proposals on air transport would allow British airlines to operate inside the EU without having to respect the same labour and environmental standards.”
  • “If English farmers and industrials are no longer bound by high standards on water pollution – wouldn’t they gain a decisive – and unfair – cost advantage?”

The second obstacle is an agreement on fisheries, and Barnier was quite strong on this issue today:

Since the start of these negotiations, the UK has not shown any willingness to seek compromises on fisheries.

Responding to an article in the Times of London that claimed the EU refused to discuss a proposal for fisheries suggested by the UK, Barnier said:

“No new legal texts have been tabled by UK negotiators.”

The UK government’s position would lock out Ireland’s fishermen and women from waters they fished in long before Ireland or the UK joined the European Economic Community in 1973.

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“And of course, the fishermen and women of many other EU countries. That is just not acceptable,” he said.

The third main stumbling block in Brexit trade talks has been a ‘dispute settlement’ mechanism. This would be a process where both the EU and UK could resolve any dispute that happens between the two trading blocks.

The European Court of Justice was suggested as one possible way of solving future trade disputes, but the UK has refused that suggestion.

Other issues

Barnier also argued that although the UK calls for wanting a “clean break” in some areas, it is choosing to continue relationships with the EU in others.

These include: on transport and energy trading; on its role for conformity assessments for goods; and on many aspects of police and judicial cooperation.

Barnier also made a very pointed criticism about the UK’s suggestion for rules of origin, as well as other areas:

They would allow the UK to source goods from around the world and export them, with very little alteration, to the EU, as British goods: tariff- and quota-free!  

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