The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator has warned that the EU will not be swayed by a “blame game” in the British press over who is responsible for the looming no-deal Bexit.
Saying he had been following the British debate on the matter, Michel Barnier told reporters in Brussels: “To be very frank with you I do see this blame game starting against the European Union in the case of no deal. But the European Union is not going to be impressed by that kind of blame game, everyone should understand that.
“On the first day of the first press conference I came before you as a negotiator, I said Brexit will have numerous consequences – human, social consequences, economic, financial, technical, legal – and I said that many people had underestimated those consequences.”
Mr Barnier’s warning comes as the EU and UK both pledge to intensify negotiations, with both sides wanting to reach a deal by October.
“The negotiations are now entering the final stage. We have agreed that the EU and UK will negotiate continuously from now on and Dominic [Raab, the Brexit secretary] and I will meet regularly to take stock and move the negotiations forward,” he said.
Mr Raab, who visited Brussels on Tuesday, said he wanted to “step up the intensity of talks” and said there were still issues to resolve on Northern Ireland and the future relationship. He added that those issues must be dealt with at a “political” level.
He also said the UK was committed to leaving the EU in March next year even if it was with no deal.
“Some of these hair-raising scare stories are very far from the truth,” he said, adding that he would set out more details about preparations for no deal on Thursday.
Responding to whether the UK would reconsider its decision to quit the block in the event no agreement is reached, he said: “Certainly on the UK side, no. We’ll be leaving in March of next year.”
There has been barely any movement in talks over the summer as both sides say each others’ plans for the Northern Ireland border and the future trade relationship are unacceptable.
Continuing political uncertainty in the UK is also a major roadblock to a proper deal, with Theresa May’s Chequers plan opposed by many within her own party. The EU has said dismissed the plan as unworkable in several significant ways.
Both sides have little room for manoeuvre to change their positions, however: Ms May appears to believe she has already given more concessions to the EU than her party will allow her, while the European Commission negotiators have their mandate set by the EU27 nations, who say they are not prepared to change the nature of their union to accommodate Britain’s departure.
Britain is set to leave the bloc on 29 March 2019 under the rules of Article 50. The UK could seek an extension or potentially revoke the decision, but the government has said it would not do so.
But the EU has said a deal needs to be signed off by October to give time for it to be scrutinised and ratified. Mr Barnier listed the outstanding elements of the withdrawal agreement as the Northern Ireland backstop and other issues such as whether the UK would respect EU protected origin designations for products such as cheeses and wines.
Separately, both sides also want to come up with a political agreement mapping out the shape of the future relationship between the UK and EU. Though not technically part of the withdrawal agreement, the UK government has said it wants this to be agreed at the same time as the other issues.