Barnier: EU’s Brexit negotiator seeks to clarify remarks

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The EU’s chief negotiator met Ireland’s foreign minister on Monday

Michel Barnier has clarified remarks he is reported to have made about Brexit.

The EU negotiator was quoted as saying he saw the process as an opportunity to “teach” the British people and others what leaving the single market means.

Mr Barnier said he actually told a meeting it “was an occasion of great explanation for everyone in the EU”.

The BBC understands he was talking in Italy about explaining the benefits of the single market to a broad European audience, not just specifically the UK.

The latest round of negotiations over the UK’s exit from the EU concluded last week, with the two sides due to officially meet again later this month.

The UK, which is keen to move on from issues directly related to its withdrawal to talk about its future relationship with the EU, has said it would like to “intensify” the pace of talks, with Downing Street saying it is open to holding negotiations on a rolling basis.

There has been unconfirmed speculation that Prime Minister Theresa May is to make a major speech on Brexit later this month in the run-up to the Conservative Party conference.


Speaking at a conference in Italy on Saturday, Mr Barnier said he did not want to punish the UK for voting to leave the EU in last year’s referendum.

But he reportedly warned that “there are extremely serious consequences of leaving the single market and it hasn’t been explained to the British people”.

“We intend to teach people… what leaving the single market means,” he reportedly told the Ambrosetti forum.

Responding to the remarks, a No 10 spokesman said “the British people have heard those arguments.”

Mr Barnier tweeted on Monday that what he had said was that Brexit was an “occasion to explain single market benefits in all countries, including my own”.

He added “we do not want to “educate” or “teach lessons”.

The former French minister, who met the Irish Republic’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney for talks on Monday, later reiterated these comments when speaking to a BBC reporter outside the European Parliament.

Talking money

Amid growing tensions between the two sides about the progress of talks and the priority given to different issues, a senior EU official has said talks about the UK’s financial obligations after Brexit are going backwards.

Gunther Oettinger, the European Commissioner responsible for the EU budget, said “the Brits have to accept that their obligations are going beyond March 2019”.

“In July we had been thinking ‘yes, they are on the way to accept it’. Now in the last few days they are coming back,” he told a technology conference in Brussels.

BBC Brussels reporter Adam Fleming said Mr Oettinger had told him he believed that progress made on the issue in the July round of talks had been reversed during last week’s session.

A source at the Department for Exiting the EU said it did not recognise this description and that there had been a robust debate about money.

Last week British officials gave a three-hour long presentation on the legal basis of the EU’s request for a Brexit financial settlement.