#Brexit – Barnier calls for EU-27 to stay calm, stick to their principles and show unity

| July 25, 2019

In response to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s statement in the House of Commons listing his priorities for government and further hardening his commitment to leaving the EU on 31 October, Michel Barnier (pictured) – the EU’s Chief Negotiator – sent a message to EU-27 member states exhorting them to stay calm, stick to the EU-27’s principles and to demonstrate solidarity and unity, writes Catherine Feore.

Barnier wrote that the aim of the prime minister’s statement was to up the pressure on the EU-27 by giving a high priority to no-deal preparedness. The Chief Negotiator called on states to await “further political and economic reactions” – possibly hinting that with a tiny majority of four, it would not be difficult to derail this approach.

The European Commission and the EU-27 have always been very much in control of this process; echoing Donald Tusk’s letter of congratulations to the PM, where the President of the European Council  wrote that he was looking forward to hearing about future cooperation “in detail”, Barnier wrote to member states that he will share the Commission’s analysis of the UK’s further proposals as soon as he receives them, before signing off and wishing them “all the best for the summer”.

Prime Minister Johnson’s statement

As he has repeatedly said during the campaign for the Conservative leadership, the new Prime Minister is committed to leaving the EU, deal or no deal, on 31 October.

Despite the ‘no-deal Brexit’ complexion of the new cabinet, a table drawn up of how cabinet members voted in the various votes on the Withdrawal Agreement by the Institute for Government paints a different picture. Of the current cabinet, only two out of 32 members voted against the agreement in its third iteration: Priti Patel and Theresa Villiers.


While Johnson stated that he would prefer to leave with a deal. He took an intransigent position on the backstop on the Irish border, which he described yesterday, in front of No. 10 as “anti-democratic”, today he added that a time limit that the EU has already rejected, would, in any event, be inadequate and called for the abolition of the backstop. He claimed that other arrangements are perfectly possible, and compatible with the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement, to which we are of course steadfastly committed.

Barnier, in his letter to member states, describes the elimination of the backstop as unacceptable, and not within his mandate as agreed by the EU-27 member states.

Johnson also called on the EU to “rethink their current refusal to make any changes to the Withdrawal Agreement”, but added that while the UK was not as ready as it should be: “In the 98 days that remain to us we must turbo-charge our preparations to make sure that there is as little disruption as possible to our national life. I believe that is possible with the kind of national effort that the British people have made before and will make again. In these circumstances we would, of course, also have available the £39 billion in the Withdrawal Agreement to help deal with any consequences.”

The EU’s Chief Negotiator, the President of the European Commission, the European Parliament’s Brexit Steering Group and the European Council – in their agreement to extend the Article 50 – have repeatedly made it clear that renegotiation of the Withdrawal Agreement is not an option. However, all parties have made it clear that they would be open to making changes to the accompanying political declaration laying out the future for EU-UK relations.

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