By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal
The EU is ready to offer Britain the “most ambitious” trade partnership possible but it will not compromise its standards, the bloc’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said Monday.
Speaking at a Centre for European Reform conference in Brussels, Barnier said any move by the U.K. to abandon European-style policies would complicate a post-Brexit trade deal.
“The U.K. has chosen to leave the EU,” Barnier said.
He said: “Does it want to stay close to the European model or does it want to gradually move away from it?
“The U.K.’s reply to this question will be important and even decisive because it will shape the discussion on our future partnership and shape also the conditions for ratification of that partnership in many national parliaments and obviously in the European parliament.
“I do not say this to create problems but to avoid problems.”
“The U.K. will lose the benefits of the single market. This is a legal reality,” he added.
Barnier claimed the U.K. would lose financial service passports, preventing banks and institutions in the City of London from reaching a market of 500 million consumers and 22 million businesses.
Speaking on the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland -- a major sticking point preventing the beginning of the second phase of Brexit negotiations -- Barnier said he expected the U.K., as a co-guarantor of the 1998 Good Friday agreement, to come up with proposals to avoid a hard border.
The EU wants the U.K. to make necessary progress on key issues on a final financial settlement, the Irish border and citizens’ rights by the end of the month so EU leaders can consider moving negotiations to the second stage where future trade relations between the two sides will be discussed.
However, the Irish government has demanded a written assurance from the U.K. that there will be no return to a hard border in Ireland. Dublin’s agreement is needed for the EU to continue with phase two unanimously.
Barnier’s remarks came on a day that an EU body will vote on the new cities to where two U.K.-based agencies -- the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Banking Authority (EBA) -- will be relocated.
British Prime Minister Theresa May is set to discuss a financial settlement with key ministers on Monday afternoon.
Various reports in local media suggest May will ask her Cabinet to agree to a £40 billion ($53 billion) pledge for the final Brexit settlement, often dubbed the “divorce bill”.
The U.K. had insisted Brexit negotiations had reached a point where sufficient progress had been made to take the talks to the second stage, where the future relationship between the U.K. and the EU could be discussed.
However, the EU officials said the progress seen was not enough, despite a praised conciliatory speech by May in Florence.
British voters opted to leave the EU in a referendum over a year ago and Brexit negotiations are supposed to be finalized in March 2019.