The French president has personally rejected a reported British plan to bypass the EU’s official Brexit negotiators and hold trade talks directly with member states.
Emmanuel Macron said European Commission chief negotiator Michel Barnier was the only point of contact for the EU side in Brexit negotiations – after reports in the British eurosceptic press that the UK would try and strike a deal with France and Germany directly.
British officials in Brussels have voiced frustration about the flexibility of the Commission’s negotiating position – arguing that Mr Barnier has not been given a broad enough mandate to compromise.
The UK team is particularly concerned at the Commission’s insistence that separation issues be dealt with before moving onto the form the UK and EU’s future relationship will take – issues Britain says are inextricably linked.
At the conclusion of the third round of talks today Mr Barnier himself said today that he was sticking “meticulously” to the mandate set for him by the EU27 states – including the leaders of France and Germany, the two countries Britain was reportedly set to deal with.
At a press conference on Thursday Mr Macron suggested that reports in the eurosceptic British press that he was willing to speak directly to the UK to the amounted to “false information”.
“I want to be very clear and reiterate our will, which is that there is only one negotiator and only one mandate,” Macron said.
“Only one negotiator, it's Michel Barnier, and I want here to clear any ambiguity created by false information that was spread.”
The Daily Telegraph reported earlier this week that France and other EU nations had signalled they were willing to begin Brexit trade talks as early as October and were at odds with Mr Barnier.
Brussels officials immediately poured cold water on the threat to bypass the EU, pointing to the negotiating guidelines set by the member states themselves inEu council.
The European Council’s negotiating plan says the negotiations are to be conducted as “as a single package” where “individual items cannot be settled separately”
“So as not to undercut the position of the Union, there will be no separate negotiations between individual Member States and the United Kingdom on matters pertaining to the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the Union,” they say.
The report was also immediately denied by the French president's office, which called it “groundless”, while a source close to Macron told the Reuters news agency that there was “nothing true in this”.
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