London not Brussels has to find answers to Brexit, says EU chief Brexit negotiator

Michel Barnier said the EU was open to any wish by the UK for it to remain in the customs union but insisted that on finding a way forward, the ball was now in the UK's court

Michel Barnier said that on Brexit, the ball was now firmly in the UK's court
Michel Barnier said that on Brexit, the ball was now firmly in the UK's court

The solution to Brexit lies in London not Brussels, and if the United Kingdom wants to leave the European Union it will have to reach an agreement on the current withdrawal deal, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator said on Friday.

Michel Barnier, who was addressing the press at Castille after a meeting with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, said that the EU had worked on the withdrawal agreement with no sense of animosity or revenge, and that it was now waiting with anticipation for London to reach a solution.

Asked by MaltaToday whether there was a chance of Britain ending up in a situation of chaos come October, if not concrete developments took place, Barnier, whose visit marks his third trip to Malta, said he didn't want to speculate, but insisted that "the ball was now in the UK's court".

In April, the EU extended the Brexit departure date to 31 October, or by any time before that if the UK manages to ratify its withdrawal deal.

"The withdrawal agreement creates certainty in all areas where Brexit will cause uncertainty," Barbier said. "The withdrawal agreement is the only one there is."

"We are currently in a period of uncertainty, but we have given the UK all the assurance and positivity needed. We have given Theresa May all necessary clarifications."

He said that the EU was keen on Britain agreeing to the deal, so that focus could then be placed on what was really important - the future relations it will have with the Union. In this regard, Barnier said the EU was awaiting discussions between the UK government and the Labour opposition. 

Barnier said that when it came to the political declaration, the EU was open to any wish from the UK to be in a customs union with the bloc. "But we will always ensure that the EU's principles - the single market, the four freedoms and the autonomy of the 27 member states - are preserved."

He went on to thank Muscat personally and said he was in agreement with him that work regarding the Brexit divorce was finished.

Ball in UK's court

As he thanked Barnier for the consistent way in which Brexit was being negotiated - highlighting that the negotiation process would be studied for years to come - Muscat also said that it was the UK which had to take decisive action now.

“Now as we have said many times before it is up to the UK to make up its mind,” he said, adding that the EU needed to avoid creating a situation where a country is “neither in nor out” as this would thrust the union into uncharted territory.

He said he was happy to be discussing the way forward even though there were no negotiations to reopen.

Muscat complemented Barnier for the way in which he had negotiated Brexit and for succeeding in maintaining a sense of unity as well as consistency throughout the talks.