Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, has dampened hopes for a speedy UK exit and trade deal, warning talks will be bedeviled by details over the next two years.
“Theresa May’s [Article 50] letter seeks a rapid agreement, but quite clearly the devil is going to be in the detail. The six months work I’ve done so far points to that”, said Mr Barnier, addressing MEPs in Strasbourg on Wednesday.
The former French foreign minister, who will be carrying out Brexit negotiations on behalf of the EU, said Britain’s desire to carry out its divorce talks alongside arrangements for a free trade deal was a “very risky approach”.
“We are not proposing this to be tactical or to create difficulties. It is an essential condition to maximise our chances of reaching an agreement together in two years. It is our best chance to build trust before proceeding to the second phase.”
MEPs will today vote on a resolution setting out the terms for the EU-UK agreement, with Mr Barnier speaking during a debate in the chamber ahead of the vote. The European Parliament will have a veto on any final Brexit deal expected in 2019.
EU officials have insisted on total unity between the remaining 27 member states as they begin Brexit talks. Mr Barnier said any signs of a fracturing within the bloc could lead talks to collapse.
“The ‘no deal’ scenario is not the scenario we are looking for,” said Mr Barnier, who said it would be against the interests of the UK and the EU.
During the debate, former UKIP leader Nigel Farage compared the EU27 to the mafia – in particular for demanding that the UK pay a €60bn bill.
“You’re behaving like the mafia, you think we’re a hostage, we’re not, we’re free to go,” said Mr Farage, an MEP.
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