Barnier. The Iceman’s Mask Finally Slips.

Graham Lear
20 min readApr 27, 2020

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Boris’ trade negotiator David Frost bats for a clean Brexit Britain and wins.

On Friday Monsieur Michel Barnier, Chief Brexit Negotiator for the EU delivered a statement following the end of the latest round of negotiations on the future EU-UK trade deal. It was not a pretty statement.

So upset was he, that he delivered the statement mostly in his mother tongue of French

So upset was he, that the text version has almost as many words in bold as there are in normal font

So upset was he, that the EU press dept omitted a lot of what he said verbally, in the formal statement

And so upset was he, that I can only
applaud the UK’s Brexit team for what was clearly an outstanding performance last week.

“Frosty the British Brexit Snowman blasts cold air all over Barnier’s faux-Brexit Brûlée”

Possibly one of the most cheering Government statements last week came from David Frost, Boris Johnson’s EU Adviser and Head of Brexit trade negotiations with the EU.

Yes, I know Mr Frost misguidedly voted Remain in the Referendum but unlike his predecessor Ollie Robbins, I believe that Mr Frost is now actively working for Brexit, not against it.

Here is Mr Frost on Twitter on Friday.

Credit: Twitter, David Frost

This is wonderful stuff!

For years Brexiteers had to endure the weak, negative, and embarrassingly-defeatist bleatings from Theresa May about how the EU “would not agree” to something. This week we had the ‘new regime’ continuing to make it abundantly clear to Monsieur Barnier that much of what he is talking about isn’t even in the room, let alone on the table.

The official statement out of №10 on Friday reinforced the tweets from David Frost. Compared to Monsieur Barnier’s version this statement is short, sharp and to the point.

Not only does the statement contain none of the woolly nonsense which came out of №10 under Theresa May’s tenure, but it puts the British case strongly, uncompromisingly, and in “clean Brexit” terms.

The official statement from №10 Downing Street
Round Two of UK-EU negotiations

“This was a full and constructive negotiating round, conducted remotely by video conference, and with a full range of discussions across all the issues, on the basis of the extensive legal texts provided by both sides in recent weeks.

“However, limited progress was made in bridging the gaps between us and the EU.

“Our assessment is that there was some promising convergence in the core areas of a Free Trade Agreement, for example on goods and services trade, and related issues such as energy, transport, and civil nuclear cooperation.

“We regret however that the detail of the EU’s offer on goods trade falls well short of recent precedent in FTAs it has agreed with other sovereign countries.

“This considerably reduces the practical value of the zero-tariff zero quota aspiration we both share.

“There are also significant differences in principle in other areas. For example, we will not make progress on the so-called “level playing field” and the governance provisions until the EU drops its insistence on imposing conditions on the UK which are not found in the EU’s other trade agreements and which do not take account of the fact that we have left the EU as an independent state.

“On fisheries, the EU’s mandate appears to require us to accept a continuance of the current quotas agreed under the Common Fisheries Policy. We will only be able to make progress here on the basis of the reality that the UK will have the right to control access to its waters at the end of this year.

“We now need to move forward in a constructive fashion. The UK remains committed to a deal with a Free Trade Agreement at its core. We look forward to negotiating constructively in the next Round beginning on 11 May and to finding a balanced overall solution which reflects the political realities on both sides.”

№10 statement, 24 Apr 2020.

Ding ding!” End of Round Two

Oh, joy. A British civil servant and a British Government actually standing up for a free and independent the United Kingdom? Hallelujah!

№10 actually uses the phrase “we have left the EU as an independent state”. And good grief, we even have a Head of British Brexit negotiations who said. “We support high standards. But there is no need for novel and unprecedented “level playing field” rules, for example tying us to EU laws, or a role for the EU Court. What the EU proposes is unlike anything agreed in other such FTAs and we will not agree to it here.”

David Frost.

So let’s take look at the extraordinary ‘hissy fit’ from the EU’s Chief Negotiator on Friday.

https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu:443/en/video/I-189866?&lg=OR

In a somewhat emotional and very long statement on Friday, Michel Barnier railed against the British for… well, for not agreeing with everything the Frenchman and the EU wanted. It seems that the man used to ‘Rollover May’ & ‘Remainer Robbins’ might have met his Waterloo.

In a splendid display of British sang-froid and ‘steef ooper leep’, last week the UK’s Brexit team actually stood up for a free and independent United Kingdom at the end of this year.

It even looks as though the British might have used the word “non” to Monsieur Barnier and his disciples. Maybe even “Non. Non. Non…. Non-non… Ah non…. Ahhh, ca non.” (In French a word is often repeated many times instead of applying an adverb as we might in English, eg “Absolutely not.”)

Monsieur Barnier’s statement on Friday was long — over 2,300 words. That’s approximately 2,000 words longer the statement from №10 about the same subject.

Press statement by Michel Barnier following the second round of future relationship negotiations with the United Kingdom Brussels, 24 April 2020 European Commission — Statement

Ladies and gentlemen, Hello to each and every one of you. I am very happy to be able to interact with you, even if only virtually. I hope that you and your friends and families are well, and I would like to thank you for your attention in these difficult times. These are grave times indeed.

The coronavirus crisis has already taken more than 100,000 lives in Europe, 170,000 around the world. Today, my thoughts go to all those who have lost someone dear to them, or who are in hospital — often in difficult conditions — and to all those affected by this virus. Let me add here a personal note for Boris Johnson. All the best in your recovery, Prime Minister! In these times of crisis, our governments and the European institutions are naturally focusing their energy on the response to the crisis. That is obviously the case of our own institution, the Commission, and of our President Ursula von der Leyen. Our first collective responsibility is to contain the virus, look after the sick and support our health workers. — But we must also manage the economic and social fallout from the crisis.

That was the aim of the European Council that took place yesterday, presided by Charles Michel. — Finally, we need to prepare for the recovery, drawing lessons from what we are currently going through, both individually and collectively. — Those are our absolute priorities right now. And in this context, the negotiation that has occupied us this week may appear out of touch. It has even been qualified as “surreal”. And yet, I believe that we have a duty to be realistic given the two very real deadlines that we are faced with and which have been set by law: 30 June 2020: Will we decide or not, before that date, and by joint decision with the British, to extend the transition period, according to the possibility that is foreseen in the Withdrawal Agreement? — And, 31 December 2020 — the date of the ‘economic Brexit’, following the ‘political Brexit’ that took place at the beginning of this year:

On this date, which will bring important and definite changes in many areas, will the United Kingdom leave the Single Market and Customs Union with or without an agreement with the EU? — Finally, realism is also to think about whether, in the midst of the terrible economic crisis that is forecast due to the coronavirus crisis, we will be able to reach an intelligent agreement that limits the shock that the UK’s departure from the Single Market and Customs Union will entail in any case. It is only realistic to raise these questions and to remind ourselves of these deadlines. — And I would add that, in parallel to the negotiation, we have taken another very real joint commitment: to make operational, by 31 December, the provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement, which are key to protecting the rights of some 4.5 million citizens and to ensuring peace and stability in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Ladies and gentlemen, In recent days, the UK government has made clear that it would refuse any extension of the transition period. We take note of this choice. My recommendation is therefore that we work hard until June and think carefully about our joint response to this question of extension, taking into account the economic situation and the consequences of our decisions. Right now though, the consequence of the United Kingdom’s decision is that the clock is ticking. We have just 8 months ahead of us to advance on three workstreams:

1 Ensuring the proper implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement;

3 Preparing ourselves to the negative economic consequences that the end of the transition period will entail.

3. Negotiating a future partnership between the European Union and the United Kingdom with a view to limiting those negative consequences

Ladies and gentlemen, More than ever, we need to start to make progress together. We need to advance in a constructive manner. That is why it was important to resume negotiations this week, even via video link. In fact, we held some forty video conferences this week, and I have to say, objectively, that it is not the same thing in terms of the quality of discussions and negotiations. Nonetheless, we worked well and I would like to thank the teams on both sides for their availability, their professionalism and their constructive spirit. And David Frost in particular for his professionalism, frankness and determination.

The United Kingdom has announced its ambition to make substantial progress by June. We share this objective. But that means that we need to make tangible progress before June if we are to reach an agreement that honours our economic interdependence and our geographic proximity by the end of the year. On 18 March, we shared with the United Kingdom a full draft legal text for an ambitious economic and security partnership — the full text of which is available online. With this text, which is obviously not ‘take it or leave it’, we have proven that it is possible to put together a complete Treaty covering all areas of our future partnership within a limited timeframe if there is the will to do so.

The United Kingdom has also sent us text proposals on some areas. I regret that I cannot share these with you, nor even with the Member States and the European Parliament. But of course, I respect the UK’s request for these to remain confidential. Over the past weeks, our experts have multiplied their technical discussions to improve our understanding of each others’ positions. But now, if we want to make tangible progress, we need to move beyond clarifications and put more political dynamism into proposals aimed at building compromises. Our aim for this second round — as for the next ones — was — and will continue to be — to advance on all areas of the negotiation in parallel — including the most difficult areas. That is the mandate that the 27 Member States have given to me. It is also a clear request of the European Parliament.

However, my duty today, as a negotiator, is to tell you the truth: that goal — of achieving parallel progress on all areas — was only very partially achieved this week. While it is true, this round did enable us to identify areas where our positions are close — at least on the technical level. — But I regret that the United Kingdom refused to engage seriously on a number of fundamental issues — issues that we did not pull out of our hat: they can be found quite precisely in the Political Declaration that we agreed with Boris Johnson. This document must be implemented seriously, precisely and objectively. I regret to say that this is not yet the case

Ladies and gentlemen, We cannot accept to make selective progress on a limited set of issues only. We need to make progress on all issues in parallel. We need to find solutions for the most difficult topics. The UK cannot refuse to extend the transition and, at the same time, slow down discussions on important areas.

There are four areas in particular, on which the progress this week was disappointing

1/ First: the level playing field. The UK negotiators keep repeating that we are negotiating as sovereign equals. As sovereigns, each side must be able to decide, with full sovereignty, on the conditions of access to our respective markets. That’s fine. But the reality of this negotiation is to find the best possible relationship between a market of 66 million consumers on one side of the Channel and a market of 450 million consumers on the other. Our free trade agreement, with zero tariffs, zero quotas on all products, would mean unprecedented access for the UK as a third country to this market of 450 million citizens. A market that is on the UK’s doorstep. Our economic partnership would be broad and comprehensive, encompassing trade in goods and services, including transport, fisheries and energy. Our offer shows the EU’s level of ambition. But we must be equally ambitious in guaranteeing high social and environmental standards. We must be equally ambitious in preventing unfair trade distortions and unjustified competitive advantages, for instance on state aid and relevant tax measures. The UK this week failed to engage substantially on these topics. It argued that our positions are too far apart to reach an agreement. It also denounced the basic premise that economic interconnectedness and geographic proximity require robust guarantees. Yet, again, this is what we agreed with Boris Johnson in our joint Political Declaration. This is what the UK Parliament approved after the December elections. Let me remind you of what I said already — and what my mandate clearly states: there will be no ambitious trade deal without an ambitious level playing field on open and fair competition.

2/ The second point on which we remain very far apart is the overall governance of our future partnership. — The EU proposed a single framework for the UK and the EU to manage jointly and efficiently all areas of our future relationship. The UK continues to insist on a number of separate agreements, each with their separate governance arrangements. — This leads to duplication, inefficiencies and a lack of transparency in the application and enforcement of the partnership, which is in nobody’s interest. — In the single governance framework that we are proposing, there are three important points for us that the UK currently refuses: First, as a basis for our cooperation, we need to refer to common values, such as democracy, rule of law and human rights, counter-terrorism or the fight against climate change as an essential principle. — Those values are standard in all our international agreements. Second, our agreement must foresee the UK’s continued adherence to the European Convention on Human Rights, which should be given effect in domestic law so that individuals can rely on it. — This is particularly important in the field of law enforcement and internal security. Third, the Partnership cannot deliver on the high level of ambition expressed in the Political Declaration without the UK recognising the role of the European Court of Justice when we use concepts of Union law — especially for the exchange of personal data.

3/ Of course, this is of particular importance when it comes to our future police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters. And this is our third concern after this second round. We both want a close relationship here. But we face problems: The UK refuses to provide firm guarantees — rather than vague principles — on fundamental rights and individual freedoms. — It insists on lowering current standards and deviating from agreed mechanisms of data protection. — — This creates serious limitations for our future security partnership. The UK chose to be a third country. As a consequence, it will not be treated as a Member State. We must take this fact as our starting point. However, the partnership that we envisage is still unprecedented for a non-Schengen third country that rejects the free movement of people, both due to the number of fields covered and the closeness of cooperation proposed.

4/ Finally, we made no progress on fisheries. On this essential topic, the UK has not put forward a legal text. We have made no tangible progress despite the Political Declaration stating that we should make our best endeavours to reach an agreement by July. This is necessary to provide sufficient clarity for EU and UK fishermen, and also for all businesses linked to fisheries. The EU will not agree to any future economic partnership that does not include a balanced, sustainable and long-term solution on fisheries. That should be crystal clear to the UK.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have spoken several times about June. Why? Because we agreed with Boris Johnson, in the Political Declaration, to hold a High-Level Conference in June to take stock of our progress in the negotiations. Before that, we have only two rounds of negotiations left; in the weeks of 11 May and of 1 June. — We must use these two rounds to make real, tangible progress across all areas, including all those I have just raised.

June will also be an occasion do take stock on what real progress the UK has made for the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland. Indeed, with just 8 months to go before the end of the transition period, it is urgent to take the necessary measures for the correct implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement. The first meeting of the Joint Committee took place on 30 March, co-chaired by European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič and Michael Gove. In follow-up to this meeting, the Specialised Committee on the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland will take place next week on 30 April. We need clear evidence that the UK is advancing with the introduction of the agreed customs procedures for goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain. — We need clear evidence that the UK will be able to carry out all necessary sanitary and phytosanitary controls, as well as other regulatory checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from outside the EU as of January 2021, in 8 months’ time.

Indeed, I reminded David Frost again during this round that the faithful and effective implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement is absolutely central to our ongoing negotiations. This is the line that we will hold together, with Maroš Šefčovič, in particular on Ireland and Northern Ireland, but also on citizens’ rights — on both sides obviously. Because a new partnership can only be built on trust. And this requires that already agreed commitments are applied correctly.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have been open about the serious difficulties that lie ahead. I still believe that we can surmount them in the coming months with political will, realism, and mutual respect. And I would add that the current sanitary, economic and social crisis adds to the duty that we have — Europeans and Brits — to build, in the coming months, an ambitious partnership between us.

Let us take a closer look at what he said.

1. Extending the Transition Period

These days, every time an EU official (including M. Barnier) opens their mouth about the Brexit talks, they mention extending the Transition Period. If the talks were going well for them, they would not do so.

2. Apparently we now have two Brexits

It seems from M. Barnier’s statement that the EU has just invented two new terms: ‘Political Brexit’ (which took place on 31 Jan 2020) and ‘Economic Brexit’ (scheduled to take place on 31 Dec 2020).

3. UK Government has rejected the extension

M. Barnier confirmed that the UK Government has once again rejected any idea of extending the Transition Period beyond its programmed date of 31 Dec 2020. Yes. How many times do they have to be told?

4. Barnier’s “teeking clock”

Barnier introduced the next section with his famous clock. “More than ever the clock is ticking. More than ever.” It should be noted that Barnier does like to repeat himself. I know people who say that if they hear Barnier talking about his “teeking clock” one more time, they may have to clock him with it. (All PC snowflakes please note: This is British sense of humour and is metaphorical, not literal.) I should not have to explain that I do, is a sad indictment of our times that I have to.

5. The EU’s strange priorities

Next, Barnier outlines the three priorities as he sees them, in order. This is where the real problems start to emerge.

a) “Ensuring the proper implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement;

b) “Preparing ourselves to the negative economic consequences that the end of the transition period will entail;

c) “Negotiating a future partnership between the European Union and the United Kingdom with a view to limiting those negative consequences.”

No Barnier. You are supposed to be negotiating a trade deal. Let others worry about the shockingly-bad Withdrawal Agreement you were part of, and let even more people worry about the “negative consequences” for your EU at the end of the Transition Period.

You should just apply your mind solely to the subject of agreeing with some sensible trading arrangements between the EU and the UK for the years to come. In an economic meltdown, surely that’s the least you can expect to do for your troubled Union? That Barnier is your sole job nothing more nothing less.

6. ‘Hissy fit’

In the next stage of his statement, Barnier really starts to display his nervousness that things are not going his way. He wades into the UK on a variety of issues, in essence saying that the EU has behaved impeccably and the UK has behaved very badly.

“I regret that the United Kingdom refused to engage seriously on a number of fundamental issues”

“This document must be implemented seriously, precisely and objectively. I regret to say that this is not yet the case.”

“We cannot accept to make selective progress on a limited set of issues only”

“The UK cannot refuse to extend the transition and, at the same time, slow down discussions on important areas.”

As most readers will recognise, this is hardly the most diplomatic language. In fact, I would go as far as to say that Barnier is ‘in a right strop’. He then goes on to try to belittle the British, again.

7. Belittling the British — again

“The reality of this negotiation is to find the best possible relationship between a market of 66 million consumers on one side of the Channel and a market of 450 million consumers on the other”

Er… no, Micky. Those 66 million people you refer to buy far more from the 450 million (447 million in fact) than the 447 million buy from the 66 million. Your trade surplus with the UK was €18 bn in the first two months of this year, as you must surely know from your statistics agency?

8. Barnier wants the UK to act like it’s still under the EU’s thumb

“Guaranteeing high social and environmental standards… preventing unfair trade distortions and unjustified competitive advantages… The UK this week failed to engage substantially on these topics”

Excellent. This means the UK side rejected the nonsense of obeying all EU rules and laws and can be competitive on the world stage after 31 December 2020.

9. That nasty British team…

“It argued that our positions are too far apart to reach an agreement. It also denounced the basic premise that economic interconnectedness and geographic proximity require robust guarantees.”

Naturally. For months the EU has been perpetuating the nonsense that they can’t give a sensible trade deal to the UK — as they have to other nations — because the UK is closer by. This was and is desperate stuff from the EU and they’ve been unmasked. I love it.

10. “Ze level playing field”

“There will be no ambitious trade deal without an ambitious level playing field on open and fair competition”

Fine by us. No trade deal then. For more than four years — since before the Referendum — I have written that the EU would never offer us a sensible trade deal because they’re extremist political ideologies.

The peoples of the EU27 member states may feel differently, but of course, the EU apparatchiks don’t care about people’s jobs and livelihoods. They’re in highly-paid, protected jobs with some of the most generous benefits on the planet. They only care about their totalitarian, federalist dream.

11. Governance

“We need to refer to common values, such as democracy, rule of law and human rights, counter-terrorism or the fight against climate change as an essential principle”

“Our agreement must foresee the UK’s continued adherence to the European Convention on Human Rights, which should be given effect in domestic law so that individuals can rely on it.”

“The UK recognising the role of the European Court of Justice when we use concepts of Union law”

Micky Barnier, the day we need any lessons in values and standards from the EU we’ll let you know.

As for your political court, you refer to this as “the European Court of Justice”. This is so wrong that even your Justices themselves now refer to their own court as “the Court of Justice of the European Union”. They recognised that they could not lay claim to being the “European Court” when so many European countries lie outside the EU. I suggest you do the same.

12. Police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters

“The UK refuses to provide firm guarantees — rather than vague principles — on fundamental rights and individual freedoms. It insists on lowering current standards and deviating from agreed mechanisms of data protection.”

Monsieur Micky Barnier, sorry to ask but do you think anyone will believe this? You must know that when it comes to the British police, judicial and intelligence services, the UK makes your services on the continent look rather like Inspector Clouseau on a bad day. Many of us feel that standards over here have slipped and need to be tightened up again, but these standards would have to fall a very long way before they could trouble you.

Also When it comes to ‘fundamental rights and individual freedoms’, in WWI and WWII millions of British people lost their lives protecting these when your countrymen failed to do so. Together with our allies, we reintroduced these to your continent. Indeed your own country’s various governments in those times had a shocking reputation in this regard. It’s just that normally we’re too polite to mention it. We also think your name should be Micky Mouse we’re too polite to mention that as well.

13. Fisheries

“The EU will not agree to any future economic partnership that does not include a balanced, sustainable and long-term solution on fisheries. That should be crystal clear to the UK.”

In essence, the EU wants the Common Fisheries Policy to continue. The answer to that is no, and David Frost and his team have made that perfectly clear.

14. Northern Ireland

At the end of your statement, Monsieur Barnier, you witter on about Northern Ireland yet again.

You may have succeeded in bamboozling Mrs May and her Remainer team — and thereby some of the British public — for years, but this is no longer possible. There’s a new game in town and it’s called realism. Your whole Northern Ireland issue was always a red herring and you know it.

Micky, I suggest you wake up and get with the programme. You’re now dealing with businesslike Anglo-Saxons who get things done.

We’re part of the Anglosphere of the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and dozens of other countries around the world. We look outwards globally — we’re not “little Europeans”.

We are not interested in your charade of political power-gaming, nor in your obsession with ‘process’, nor in any of your weird ideological concepts. We live in the real world, where millions of people are losing their jobs because of a bizarre reaction to a public health event.

Michel, you should be focusing on one thing: trade

The EU should simply maintain the existing arrangements. It’s a very generous offer from the United Kingdom, given the fact that we’re your second-largest customer for your goods, and also given the massive trade surplus you make from us each year.

Then there are a few relatively simple side agreements on aviation, transport, etc. We might also let you have a few fish — but only a limited number — while we rebuild our fishing fleet which was decimated by your Common Fisheries Policy.

Oh yes, and if you would like the United Kingdom’s taxpayers to continue to fund the defence of the EU27 then we might consider it if you ask us nicely. We could slip you a few quid now and again, loan you a few of our elite troops to show you how it’s done But it won’t involve being in your Defence Union.

Michel, do please come back to the next round of talks with a better attitude, or we might as well call it a day right now.

Sources: EU Commission

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Graham Lear

What is life without a little controversy in it? Quite boring and sterile would be my answer.