UK can change mind on single market till 2020-end: Brussels
12 April 2018
The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has told Prime Minister Theresa May she can change her mind on leaving the bloc's single market until 2021.
Barnier revealed that Brussels would consider a reversal of the UK's commitment to quitting the single market even after Brexit, and it has until the end of 2020 to reverse its position on leaving the single market and customs union.
The European Commission official suggested the UK could yet abandon its "red lines" within the planned Brexit transition period, which is due to last until 31 December 2020.
Speaking to a group of European newspapers, Barnier said, "If Britain decides to change its red lines, we too will change our positions, we remain open, there are no dogmas."
Prime Minister May has earlier said Britain will quit the single market and customs union.
The UK will formally leave the EU on 29 March next year after the invocation of Article 50, but will remain in the bloc's single market and customs union for the 21-month transition period.
The 21-month transition period is due to end on December 31 the following year, coinciding with the end of the EU's seven-year budget.
After that point, the Prime Minister has insisted the UK will be outside the single market and the customs union, in order for Britain to establish its own immigration and trade policies.
The Prime Minister used a speech in March to repeat her "red lines" that the UK will leave the single market and customs union as well as the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
Last month, EU leaders left open the option for the UK to change its Brexit policy when agreeing their guidelines for the next stage of negotiations on the future EU-UK relationship.
The conclusions of the European Council summit in March said the 27 remaining EU member states had adopted an approach "compatible with the positions stated by the UK". But it added, "If these positions were to evolve, the Union will be prepared to reconsider its offer."
The Times reported this clause was part of the EU's "plan B" for Brexit negotiations. One diplomat recently told the newspaper, "This is about being helpful if, as many capitals hope, reality dawns and red lines disappear."
This ambition has reportedly been the source of a row between Davis and civil servants, who are said to believe such an aim is unrealistic with only six months left.
Speaking to European reporters, Barnier said, "If the British wish to modify their red lines, we will modify ours in consequence.
"I am not hearing that today but everything is possible, there is no dogmatism."
He added, "What creates the problem in Ireland is the decision of the United Kingdom to leave the EU but also to leave what it is not obligatory to leave, that's to say the single market and the customs union."
Brexit Secretary David Davis has said the UK will "get pretty substantively close" to a post-Brexit free trade agreement with the EU by October this year, suggesting merely technical details will be finalised in the transition period.
Responding to Barnier's remarks, Labour MP Chris Leslie, a supporter of the pro-EU Open Britain campaign, said, "These comments by Michel Barnier demonstrate yet again how ludicrous it was for the government to take single market membership off the table in the Brexit negotiations.”