EU's Barnier warns 'no deal' Brexit risk persists

Sofia (AFP) –


The EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier on Thursday warned that Britain and Europe still had a long way to go in Brexit talks as he urged continued plans for a catastrophic 'no deal' scenario.

"For as long as the ratification has not taken place, we need to be ready in case of a 'no deal, no transition' scenario. This is our collective responsibility," Barnier told an economic conference in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia.

Barnier's address marked his return to the Brexit debate a month after the EU and Britain agreed in principal to a 21-month transition period after the divorce next year despite deep divisions on the key issue of Northern Ireland.

"We have made good progress in the last six months, but we are not there yet. There is difficult work ahead before the June European Council," Barnier told an audience of bankers, EU officials and regulators.

"This means that market participants and public authorities must continue to prepare for all scenarios. No one should underestimate the risk of disagreement," the former French minister and European commissioner said.

At the June summit EU leaders will assess the thorny question of how to avoid border checks between British-ruled Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state.

Both Britain and the EU have vowed to avoid the return of customs checks to the former flashpoint border, but the UK has yet to offer a solution accepted by the Europeans.

The EU has insisted that the Irish border problem must be resolved in order to seal any deal on Brexit and move on to trade talks and determining Britain's future relationship with the EU.