The Committee for Exiting the European Union visited Brussels after the summer recess and heard from Michel Barnier, Chief Negotiator, European Commission. I asked him about the Chequers proposal.

Stephen Kinnock (Translation): Thank you, Mr Barnier. I wanted to ask you the following question. There is a big divide between the United Kingdom and the European Union, quite a big divide if you look at the Chequers proposal and the proposal that you have described today. Do you see a risk here, if our Prime Minister is to manage to get a majority in Parliament, that we might end up with an agreement that lacks clarity, a kind of vague agreement in order to get as many people on board as possible? At what stage will you and member states be saying that the political statement needs to be detailed, it needs to be as detailed as possible, and what does that mean in practice? We do not have much time left. As I see it, there are quite a few parts of this table where negotiations have not yet started. Do you think that it is going to be possible to get a detailed political declaration, a declaration that is detailed enough to allow us to take an informed decision in the autumn?

Michel Barnier (Translation): First of all, we have not started negotiations on the future relationship. In order to start those negotiations, you have to be a third country in legal terms, so we started our discussions on the basis of the European Council’s guidelines, which are very specific, and on the basis of the White Paper, which is useful. A lot of elements in the White Paper are useful, as I have said several times, in order to find common ground. Sabine will correct me if I am wrong—she is running these discussions with the technical groups—but I think we have gone through all the subjects there, all of them.
We have not left anything out and that is why I am here, you are here today, and that is why I am saying today that there is a lot of convergence on many points, including key issues, issues that are key to the stability of the continent: defence, security, the third pillar, also on the second pillar and indeed on the first pillar, so we can move forward apace. We are not that far off starting to draft this political declaration, but in our view it should be quite specific, quite precise. It is not just you who require clarity. The Ministers, the heads of Government and the European Parliaments also require clarity, so I want to be transparent, I want to be clear.

At some stage the time will come when we have to acknowledge that there is a disagreement on specific points and then we can see whether we can resolve those disagreements. But I think we are almost in a position to be able to start drafting the political declaration, but as I said, it has to be quite detailed. You need clarity and we also need clarity on our side, looking ahead to the future. We also need clarity on our side to be able to prepare the negotiating mandates for the different negotiations that are going to start as of 1 April. We do not have that much time, so the more detailed the declaration, the easier it will be to draft the negotiating mandate and the easier it will be to start the negotiations.

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