The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has broken the dreams of many Brexiteers and hard Brexit defenders by simply reiterating that that kind of Brexit is just not possible. There cannot be any single market benefits without being in the single market or “sector by sector” participation without respecting the EU’s red lines of free movement of people, goods, services and capital. Our European technocrats constantly remind us that, unless we change our attitude and become more cooperative, Brexit isn’t going to be served warm, but cold. So, with all the sanctity of an impeccable seasoned politician, Barnier—aka “the most dangerous man in Europe”—promised that, “There will never be any aggressiveness or arrogance on my part. And I recommend all to adopt the same attitude.”

Barnier might be a “dealmaker” and a “pragmatic politician,” according to Syed Kamall, leader of the Conservative MEPS, but he is also a technocrat and “no friend of the Tory Eurosceptics.”

“No deal” isn’t better than a “bad deal”

Speaking in Brussels today, Michel Barnier, said that Britain isn’t in the position to choose what it likes and that walking away without a deal would be very damaging for the country. He pointed out that some people in the UK haven’t realised yet the consequences of Brexit and that leaving without a deal isn’t such a good thing: “We want to be ready for all eventualities, including ‘no deal’, a possibility that has been mentioned again recently by several British ministers.” He explained that “In practice, ‘no deal’ would worsen the ‘lose-lose’ situation which is bound to result from Brexit. And the UK would have more to lose than its partners.”

Barnier clarified that “There is no reasonable justification for the ‘no deal’ scenario. There is no sense in making the consequences of Brexit even worse…to my British partners I say: a fair deal is far better than no deal.”

Many of us, feeling that we want what has been promised to us, remain anchored to Brexit and its possibilities, because this is how it was offered to us.  But Brexit wasn’t just about taking back control—a slogan that somewhat sounds a little bit silly since you cannot take back something that never existed, unless that means re-imagining a new Empire and all those things that go with it. Brexit was a protest vote against the way things are. But this disaffection was channelled through slogans and misleading propaganda that demonised foreigners. Whether you hold this view or hope to continue with a hard Brexit as the only way to release the UK from the shackles of the powerful European elites, then needless to say, the European Union would have the upper hand in the negotiations, whether we like it or not. 

Theresa May, who has repeated the slogan “no deal is better than a bad deal”, a phrase which also appears in the Conservative Manifesto, was confident that it would help satisfy the hardliners of her party. It resonates with the Leave campaign’s optimism evident in the other slogan “take back control,” which drove a whole campaign’s emotional impetus. The Brexiteers’ naïve optimism manufactured an artificial climate of fateful assurance and honest commitment that would evaporate faster than Farage’s disappearance from the political landscape after the UK’s EU referendum.

Barnier warned the UK that a failure to reach a deal would mean reverting to the World Trade Organisation rules of a “distant past” of border controls on imports. He said: “There would be customs duties of almost 10 % on vehicle imports, an average of 19 % for alcoholic beverages, and an average of 12% on lamb and fish, for which the vast majority of British exports go to the EU.”

Barnier stressed that Brexit means “uncertainty” and “the decision to leave the EU has consequences.” He said that “You cannot leave the single market and then opt into those sectors you like most, say the automobile industry or financial services. You cannot be half in or half out of the single market.” 

He made it clear “that only the combination of the customs union and the rules of the internal market allow this free, ‘frictionless’ trade between our states,” which will be impossible otherwise.

The UK does not fully understand the EU

Wanting to dispel assumptions and attitudes such as the ones represented by the UK’s Brexit negotiator David Davis, who has more than once stated that Britain should walk away rather than accept a “punishment deal,” Barnier was worried that the British politicians didn’t fully understand the EU and its position: “The EU is not only a big marketplace, it is also an economic and social community where we adopt common standards. All third countries must respect our autonomy to set rules and standards ... I am not sure whether [these points] have been fully understood across the Channel.”

On another occasion this week, Barnier said that Michael Gove’s announcement that the UK will leave the 1964 London fisheries convention, was wrong because nothing had changed: “EU law/common fisheries policy had superseded it.”

It is difficult not to gulp, when Barnier says: “Let us prepare for Brexit so that we can approach it calmly, since that is the decision of the United Kingdom. Then we will be able to concentrate on what is most important: the future of Europe.”

The second round of the Brexit negotiations in Brussels will take place on 17 July.