(Bloomberg) -- European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier reiterated that the U.K.’s red lines effectively exclude the prospect of a preferential relationship with the bloc after their separation, while warning that British de-regulation would put a future trade accord at risk.
Speaking at the Munich Security Conference on Friday, the Frenchman showed participants his Stairway to Brexit chart, as he argued how the British government’s positions on trade, customs and regulatory independence “close the door” to a relationship modeled after the EU’s ties with Norway, Switzerland or Turkey. Even a standard free-trade agreement could be voted down by national parliaments in the EU if the U.K. opts to de-regulate its labor, environmental or health laws, Barnier said.
“The decision to leave will have consequences, for them and for us,” Barnier told his audience in the Bavarian capital. While he acknowledged that the deal struck in December makes a disorderly Brexit less likely, he repeated that all EU rules, including those concerning citizens’ rights, must continue to apply in the U.K. during a transition period which is poised to last until end-2020. “If there is no withdrawal deal, there is no transition,” he said.
For the EU’s negotiators, maintaining the unity of the bloc’s 27 remaining states is far more important than an advantageous agreement with the U.K., an approach that Barnier confirmed on Friday. This means that offering compromises that would allow the U.K. to keep the perks associated with membership in the world’s largest single market, while evading the strings attached, is unlikely.
“The future of Europe is more important than Brexit,” Barnier said.
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