By Michel Barnier
THE United Kingdom will leave the European Union on 29 March 2019. While we regretted the UK’s departure, we respect its sovereign decision. Our task is now to organize the disentanglement of the UK from the EU’s institutions and policies. And we also need to look towards the future.
After Brexit, the EU will remain a global player, with 440 million citizens, and one of the biggest world economies. The UK has been an EU member for 45 years. We share common values and have a number of common interests. The UK, which is a member of the G7 and the UN Security Council, can be an important partner of the EU, economically and strategically. In the current geopolitical context, we have an interest not only to strengthen the EU’s role in the world but to cooperate with the UK as a close partner.
How can we achieve a new partnership?
First, we need to make sure that the UK’s exit is orderly. Some 80% of the Withdrawal Agreement is agreed. We will protect the rights of more than 4 million EU citizens living in the UK and British nationals in the EU. This was our first priority and a major point of vigilance for the European Parliament. The UK has also agreed to honour all its financial obligations undertaken as an EU member. A 21 month transition period will give businesses and administrations time to adapt, as the UK would stay in our Single Market and Customs Union until 31 December 2020.
However, 80% is not 100%. We still need to agree on important points, such as the protection of “geographical indications”. This refers to the protection of local farm and food products like Scottish Whisky or Parmesan cheese, where EU protection has generated significant value for European farmers and producers. We need to find solutions for specific British territories, such as the UK’s sovereign bases in Cyprus, and Gibraltar on which bilateral negotiations are ongoing between Spain and the UK.
The biggest risk caused by Brexit is on the island of Ireland. We need to make sure that Brexit does not create a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and that the Good Friday Agreement, which has brought peace and stability to Northern Ireland, will be protected. Today, the cooperation and exchanges between Ireland and Northern Ireland occur within the common framework of the EU. Since we will not know what the future relationship will bring by Autumn 2018, we need t