'Frictionless trade' with European Union 'not possible' post-Brexit

Warning the EU's position appeared not to have been "fully understood" by some in London, Mr Barnier said: "I have heard some people in the United Kingdom argue that one can leave the single market and keep all of its benefits".

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator says Britain can not enjoy "frictionless" trade with EU partners after it leaves the union.

Speaking in Brussels on Thursday, Barnier said that it was his "duty" to say that "the decision taken by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union will have major consequences".

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He countered that "a fair deal is far better than no deal" and pointed out Brexit talks were not a classic negotiation, where "no deal" meant reversion to the status quo.

Losing access to the single market would lead to City firms losing "passporting rights", which provide wide-ranging European Union access for UK-based financial services. "But it is not clear whether they have been fully understood across the channel", he added.

Barnier emphasised that this was based on a decision - that he personally regretted - that the British had made: "There is no punishment for Brexit".

He reluctantly put his name to the Remain side in the referendum and fired some lawmakers who backed an amendment in Parliament calling on the government to keep open the option of staying in the bloc's single market and customs union. "But Brexit has a cost, also for business in the EU27, and businesses should assess with lucidity the negative consequences of the United Kingdom choice on trade and investment and prepare to manage that".

The French politician said he was ready for the talks to fail, but said "no deal" would be damaging, especially for Britain, and saw "no reasonable justification" for it. Pointing out that the cost of Brexit was also a cost for business in the EU27. "And the United Kingdom would have more to lose than its partners", the French former commissioner, said.

Amid talks in British media that United Kingdom prime minister Theresa May would be ready to walk out of talks on the financial settlement - the money the United Kingdom will have to pay as part of its European Union commitments - Barnier insisted that progress will be needed on the three issues "together", before talks on future relations can start.

"The EU already has free trade agreements with 58 countries that are not members of the customs union".

Barnier said: "I have heard some people in the United Kingdom argue that one can leave the single market and keep all of its benefits".

As negotiations will start more than three months after May triggered the 2-year negotiating period, Barnier also warned that "time flies" until 29 March 2019, when Brexit will happen automatically.

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