EU member states have 'concerns' about latest Brexit deal and may not endorse it

Deal was stuck by David Davis and Michel Barnier earlier this week

Jon Stone
Brussels
Tuesday 20 March 2018 18:34
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Michel Barnier has said there has been a 'decisive step' towards the UK's withdrawal from the European Union

Some European Union member states have “concerns” about the Brexit deal struck between negotiators on Monday and may not endorse it at a European Council summit on Friday, officials have warned.

A senior EU figure with knowledge of preparations for the crunch meeting emphasised that the deal was “was reached between Barnier and Davis” and said more consultation was needed to bring countries onboard ahead of the meeting later this week.

“Our negotiators reached an agreement on part of the withdrawal agreement,” the senior official said.

“Whether all 27 EU member states can welcome this at the European Council still, as I speak, remains open. We still need a couple more hours to consult with some of the most concerned member countries.”

The official would not be drawn on what aspects of the agreement concerned the member states, or which member states had raised concerns in the meetings.

Speaking to the press in Brussels after a meeting of EU ministers to discuss Brexit, Michel Barnier said it was “normal” for member states to have different views.

“We are building a firm foundation for unity among member states. People have different sensitivities, different worries – they may be closer or further away or have different interests at stake with the UK,” he said.

“But that’s perfectly normal among the 27 member states who sit at this council we’ve been attending today. Clearly they have different issues but it’s important that we feel collective ownership of how we deal with those topics, and then we come up with a common line.”

The chief negotiator added that he would “continue to negotiate” on “the basis of what the European Council says to me”.

The deal, which if signed off would finally allow the UK to move to trade talks, saw the UK concede full free movement rights to EU citizens arriving during the Brexit transition period and the implementation of new EU rules drawn up without its say during the transition period. The EU gave ground in allowing the UK to negotiate trade deals during the period.

Little progress was made in the draft agreement on Northern Ireland, however, which European Council President Donald Tusk previously said would have to be resolved before other issues could be definitely settled.

Officials familiar with Mr Tusk’s views said he had been satisfied that “reassurances” made by Theresa May in a letter sent to Brussels on Monday afternoon showed she was serious about the subject.

Michel Barnier speaking in Brussels on Tuesday

Rejection of the accord would be a huge blow to the UK and waste valuable time, with a full deal needed by October, according to the EU’s timetable.

On Monday, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said the arrangement was a “decisive step” towards an overall deal on an orderly withdrawal but that it remained only a step in a longer process. He reiterated that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.

Though Mr Barnier and the European Commission are conducting day-to-day negotiations with the UK, the European Council – the leaders of all the other 27 EU member states – has to sign off progress when it meets four times a year.

The EU countries’ concerns about the deal are unusual because the European Council has generally accepted the commission’s recommendations on what to sign off so far in the process.

Ms May will attend the European Council summit on Thursday of this week where as well as Brexit she will discuss Russia and the Salisbury attack, and how to respond to a looming trade dispute with the US.

The meeting will also allow the EU27 countries to draw up their negotiating guidelines for the next phase of talks, on the future trade relationship. EU sources said they were confident these guidelines would be agreed by the member states.

Mr Tusk is expected to use the summit to propose a “debate” among the member countries on the EU’s negotiating strategy for the rest of the talks.

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