By Ian Wishart, Tim Ross, and Robert Hutton
September 7, 2018, 2:29 PM GMT+3 Updated on September 7, 2018, 7:08 PM GMT+3
EU chief negotiator says “lots” of White Paper is useful. Barnier’s words add to evidence EU focused on getting deal.
European Union chief negotiator Michel Barnier said “lots” of the U.K.’s blueprint for post-Brexit relations are “useful” and that he’s open to new ideas to fix the Irish border problem. His positive spin on the divorce talks boosted the pound.
“In the White Paper there are lots of positive things, lots of useful things, just to make that absolutely clear,” Barnier told a delegation of U.K. lawmakers on Monday, according to an official transcript. “I did not just reject the White Paper outright; that is just not true.”
Barnier also told Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz that 90 percent of the divorce agreement is complete, according to a government official speaking on condition of anonymity. Brexit is being done in two parts: first the divorce deal, which needs to be settled in the next few months to ensure an orderly exit. Alongside that, the two sides will agree to an outline of what their future relationship should look like. Once the U.K. has left, that agreement will be fleshed out into a detailed trade deal.
The EU negotiator also reiterated that he is open to alternative suggestions for keeping the Irish border open after the split. That’s a major hurdle that needs to be overcome before a divorce agreement can be reached. Still, he went on to say there were “major problems” with the U.K.’s vision for a future customs arrangement and its plan to pick and choose parts of the bloc’s single market.
Barnier’s comments add to evidence that the two sides are working on getting a divorce deal secured, and could be willing to postpone some of the more difficult decisions about what the future relationship should look like until after exit day.