For the first time since the signing of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, Michel Barnier, Head of the European Commission Task Force for Relations with the UK, expressed his views on the text publicly during a debate at the European Economic and Social Committee's January plenary session.
Mr Barnier stressed that there was nothing positive about Brexit: "This is a divorce, and nobody should be happy after a divorce. But this agreement we have reached with the UK proves that the EU is not a prison, as some demagogues on the right and left want us to believe; we can get out of it, but those who want to get out have to face the consequences in the form of distortions and turbulence".
The purpose of the agreement was to put in order the economic and trade-related aspects of the relationship between the EU and the UK after Brexit, knowing that it was not an end point: "It will not only be necessary to ensure the proper implementation of this agreement, but it will certainly have to be supplemented in the future for certain topics that the United Kingdom did not want to include this time, such as defence or foreign policy".
Mr Barnier also stressed that the work of the European Commission was not finished: the Commission would monitor implementation of the agreement and keep a close eye on any proposal from the British side that could result in regulatory divergence.
EESC president Christa Schweng thanked Mr Barnier for his work during the Brexit negotiations and for his "exemplary transparency and the time put in to keep civil society informed throughout the negotiation process", Mr Barnier having spoken on five occasions at EESC plenary debates.
Jack O'Connor, chair of the EESC's Brexit Follow-up Group, praised the way in which Mr Barnier had dealt with the situation in Ireland during the Brexit negotiations and called to mind the commitment made by the EESC and the Brexit Follow-up Group to "play our role to optimise the potential of this agreement", particularly in relation to UK civil society. (dgf)