EU: Britain can have no say during Brexit transition

Lorne Cook
Associated Press

Brussels – The European Union on Monday warned Britain that it cannot expect to have a say in EU decision-making once it leaves, including during a transition period from next year meant to help smooth the departure.

The warning came as European affairs ministers adopted – in a matter of minutes – new orders for the bloc’s Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, laying out the terms of the transition, which would run from the end of March 2019 until Dec. 31, 2020, when the bloc’s current long-term budget ends.

Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva, who chaired the meeting, said the ministers gave “a clear mandate” on their requirements for the transition period. She said EU law would apply in Britain during that time and that the country would have “no participation in the EU institutions and decision-making.”

Barnier’s deputy tweeted that the negotiating guidelines were endorsed in Brussels within two minutes, although ambassadors had spent weeks drafting them. Zaharieva said: “We hope an agreement on this with the U.K. can also be closed swiftly.”

In London, Brexit Secretary David Davis played down the impact on Britain’s status during the 21-month transition, saying that it’s “not exactly the same as membership – but it’s very, very similar.”

“The existing regulatory structure will exist, the existing court structure will exist,” Davis told a British parliamentary committee.

He underlined that Britain would, however, be free during the bridging period to negotiate new trade deals with the wider world, which it is barred from doing while it is an EU member.

Barnier noted that “no accord with third countries engaging the United Kingdom can enter force without the agreement of the 27” EU countries. In a sign of potential tension over the issue, Davis warned that “there will be an argument about the right to negotiate free trade arrangements.”

In the orders, the EU insists that Britain should also abide by any new rules that are introduced during the transition.

This has already raised concern in Britain, and Davis demanded last week “a way of resolving concerns if laws are deemed to run contrary to our interests and we have not had our say.”

“It’s very, very important,” he said, that “if there are new laws that affect us, we have the means to resolve any issues during that period.”

But Irish European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee said Monday that “what we cannot have is a position where the integrity of the single market, the customs union, is in any way undermined.”

“When the U.K. leave the European Union they will not be a voice around the table,” she said.

Swedish EU Affairs and Trade Minister Ann Linde agreed.

“When you have left the European Union, you have left, and this is just a transition to a new arrangement,” she said.

Any disputes would be handled by the European Court of Justice. This, too, will not sit well with Brexit supporters, who want to escape the grip they say Europe’s top court has on British sovereignty.

Britain is impatient to launch talks on future ties with the EU and in particular on trade, but more guidelines will have to be adopted at a summit of European leaders in March for that to happen, based on progress made by then.

Monday’s guidelines include a demand for clarity on what future relations should look like.

“The sooner the Brits are clear about the future, the better for everybody,” said Italy’s EU affairs representative Sandro Gozi. “We have to use our time and energy not in shaping the transition, but in shaping the future relationship.”

Barnier also underlined that all elements of any Brexit deal, including the divorce bill and citizens’ rights, must be translated into a legally binding text. Separate talks on the thorny issue of keeping open the border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K., and EU member state Ireland will continue this year.

“Without an agreement on all parts of the withdrawal there can be no transition,” Barnier told reporters after the meeting.