Michel Barnier has accused the UK’s Brexit negotiating team of wanting the “best of both worlds” by retaining the conditions of being an EU member while leaving the single market and customs union. The European Commission Head of Taskforce and the UK’s Brexit negotiator David Frost have so far held three rounds of talks without making a breakthrough, with discussions resuming next week.
In a wide-ranging interview with German radio station Deutschlandfunk, Mr Barnier said: “The British have not understood or do not want to understand that Brexit has consequences for them. For us too. But also for them.
“That after leaving the EU, they cannot have the same conditions and status as when they were members of the European Union. That is your choice.
“It is difficult for them to accept the consequences of Brexit, there should be more realism in London in the near future if they want an orderly agreement to exit the single market and customs union.”
Following the third round of Brexit talks, the Government published its draft legal texts which outlined the UK’s plan to strike a free-trade deal with the European Union.
However the pathway to an agreement has been thwarted by the EU’s insistence on a so-called level-playing field on trade – meaning the UK would still be bound by some EU rules and regulations.
The UK and the EU have until July 1 to decide whether to extend the current negotiating period beyond December 31 for up to two years.
Downing Street has maintained the UK will honour the timeline – despite earlier this week Mr Barnier offering the UK a 24 month delay in a letter to opposition party leaders.
The EU chief has insisted it is down to the UK to shift in order for an agreement to be reached and has called for some “realism”.
Mr Barnier said: “Only we will not make any progress there if the British continue to pick raisins and want the best of both worlds for themselves.
“I was told the popular expression of the German language ‘You cannot dance on two weddings at the same time’.
“This is the attitude of the British leaving the European Union, but they want to keep all the advantages. More realism is needed.”
“I think, to recall, we are not saying that there can be no level playing field provisions, we’re simply saying that there must be provisions which are appropriate to a free trade agreement.”
Ahead of the crunch talks, Mr Barnier said it was “possible” a deal could be reached but claimed the timetable for talks, which was agreed by both sides in January, has made it “extremely difficult”.
He added: “It is very difficult, but it is possible. Still possible, even if the British are now imposing a time constraint by refusing to extend the negotiations.
“These could be extended by a year or two if you wish. We are ready for it.
“If they don’t want to, we now have eight months, even less, six months to leave time for ratification. So extremely difficult, but still possible.”