No Brexit renegotiation without free movement, warns Michel Barnier in fresh blow for Labour

24 June 2024, 11:03 | Updated: 24 June 2024, 11:22

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Michel Barnier has ruled out Brexit renegotiation without free movement. Picture: Getty

By Flaminia Luck

Labour will have to bring back free movement if it wants to renegotiate its Brexit deal, top negotiator Michel Barnier has warned.

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As Britain marked the eighth anniversary of the EU referendum yesterday, Mr Barnier said Brussels would continue a block on attempts to “cherry-pick” from its single markets without signing up to the corresponding obligations in an interview with the Telegraph.

His intervention will come as a fresh blow as Sir Keir Starmer’s planned to renegotiate Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal and ease trade restrictions by revisiting the agreement.

The Labour leader previously described the terms of that deal as “botched” and “not good enough”.

He also said Boris Johnson and Liz Truss did "huge damage" to the UK's basic relations with EU partners.

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves stated Labour would seek closer alignment with EU rules in sectors such as chemicals and a better deal for City of London bankers.

She reiterated Labour would not rejoin the single market or customs union or sign up to freedom of movement, despite wanting to build closer ties with Brussels.

Mr Barnier, who negotiated Britain’s break from the EU and future trade agreement, said the bloc would welcome fresh talks however it would not ease its previous red lines.

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“It is one thing to say that we can revisit the relationship between the UK and the EU, and in the same spirit we can improve the relationship.”

“But it is another thing to say we can open the single market. Any UK government – the current one or the future one – knows the rules of the single market, you cannot be in and out at the same time.”

Mr Barnier maintained a hard stance against picking out elements of EU membership without signing up to the necessary obligations, during his tenure as the EU’s Brexit negotiator between 2016 and 2021.

“If you speak about the chemical sector, you are speaking about a kind of cherry-picking. No way,” he said in a direct blow to Labour’s plans.

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The EU flag is seen flying by Big Ben during a demonstration...
Michel Barnier maintained a hard stance against picking out elements of EU membership between 2016 and 2021. Picture: Getty

However, he said a future Labour government could sign new EU agreements if it was willing to align with the bloc’s rules in those areas.

“I can speak about defence, foreign policy, cooperation in Africa…financial services,” he said.

“There are a lot of sectors where we can complete trade agreements and open new negotiations between the UK and EU.

The main ones are obviously linked to the current situation in Ukraine and Europe with the war, the risk of terrorism, the stability all around us, I think we must, it is in our common interest to open a new negotiation.”

Mr Barnier was more open about the chance of a deal to reduce checks on British food exports.

“I think there is a room for positive manoeuvre to complete a trade agreement with a specific veterinary agreement to facilitate the flows and exchanges in the sector of animals and vegetables,” said the Frenchman.

Challenges for a future Labour government when negotiations need to be held over access for European fishermen to British waters for 2026 and beyond were also discussed.

“Don’t forget, we have put in the [Brexit trade] treaty the parallel negotiation of the agreement for the UK to access the electricity market of the EU in 2026,” he said.

“We have clearly put these two points in parallel, fisheries on one side with this new negotiation for the access to British and European waters reciprocally, and the access to the UK industry to the European market of electricity.

"This point has been very clear from day one.

“I recommend both sides to be reasonable at the beginning of this negotiation," he said.

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Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer during LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer during LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast. Picture: Alamy

Sir Keir previously told LBC: "I voted to Remain and campaigned for remain. We have left the EU and we're not rejoining and that means we are not going to rejoin the single market or the customs union or reintroduce freedom of movement."

He added: "I think the deal we have got is a botched deal. Talk to any business. I was at Southampton port yesterday. Talk to anyone who works at the border and they will say that they have all sorts of checks and balances that aren't necessary that they think can be improved.

"I'm in the business of making it easier for people to trade

When asked by Nick Ferrari what he would look to do, Sir Keir replied "We would seek a better agreement. This would have to be negotiated.

"In trade so that it's easier for business. I want it to be better in things such as a research and development and I want it to be better on security because it has become clear that we can do more work with our EU partners when it comes to defence and security.

"I would also add to that list the taking down the vile gangs that are running the vile trade of putting people in small boats to go across the channel. At the moment we don't have the wherewithal if we are on a joint investigation or a joint project for the UK to lead on it and I think we can do better than that."

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