Michel Barnier said the Government’s white paper had paved the way for more “constructive discussions” on the divorce, but warned Brussels is still unclear on how parts of the plan would work.
Speaking after briefing ministers from the remaining EU27, Mr Barnier said the bloc is prepared to shift on its “backstop” proposals to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland the Irish Republic – an issue which has proved a major sticking point in previous talks.
But he went on to warn Mrs May’s touted “facilitated customs arrangement” after Brexit would ultimately damage business in the EU and could be vulnerable to fraud.
His comments come after the Prime Minister this morning demanded the bloc “evolve” its stance on Brexit.
Meanwhile, tensions are rising within Ireland itself, as yesterday Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar suggested British planes could be banned from flying in Irish airspace.
Take a look back at today’s Bexit news with Express.co.uk’s live blog:
Not simply to fall back on to previous positions which have already been proven unworkable. But to evolve their position in kind
8.10pm: Downing Street hits back over Varadkar flights threat
Number 10 has disputed Irish leader Leo Varadkar’s claim British planes could be prevented from passing through Ireland’s airspace unless a Brexit transition deal is reached.
Mr Varadkar had warned the UK it needed to think about the consequences of leaving the EU without a deal, insisting “you can’t take back your waters and then expect to take back other people’s sky”.
But Downing Street has said “overflight rights” have nothing to do with EU membership.
A spokeswoman told the Irish Independent: “It’s wrong to claim that Ireland could simply stop the UK from flying over its land as a result of Brexit.
“The reason we say that is because overflight rights are not guaranteed by the EU, rather by multilateral treaty which both ourselves and Ireland have signed up to.”
READ MORE: Ireland’s Varadkar SLATED by No10 over Brexit flights threat
6.30pm: Nicky Morgan demands Government publish no deal Brexit advice
The pro-EU Tory called on Theresa May to make public a series of “technical notices”, aimed at helping businesses prepare for no deal.
She said: “Consumers and companies have been left in the dark by the Government about the consequences of a ‘no deal’ Brexit,” she said.
“Plans to publish technical notices to help businesses prepare are welcome, but the Government must also provide details of the practical consequences for ordinary people, and its own preparations to deal with them.
“If ‘no deal’ could lead to empty supermarket shelves and medicine shortages, the public has a right to know.”
4.32pm: Jacob Rees-Mogg blasts “mafia-like” EU after Barnier speech
Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg has said comments by the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, and Irish leader Leo Varadkar, demonstrate why the UK will be better off outside the bloc.
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, earlier ripped into Theresa May’s plan for the split but said the latest white paper did provide scope for more “constructive discussions”.
Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar this week warned Britain cannot “have its cake and eat it” and said British planes could be unable to fly through Irish airspace unless a suitable transition deal is reached.
In response, Mr Rees-Mogg tweeted: “Today’s aggressive comments by Messrs Varadkar and Barnier show why we are right to be leaving the mafia-like European Union.”
Jacob Rees-Mogg accused Mr Varadkar and Mr Barnier of being ‘mafia-like’
Jacob Rees-Mogg hit out at the ‘mafia-like’ EU
15.10pm update: Jeremy Hunt on no deal scenario
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has insisted the government doesn’t want a no-deal Brexit.
He said: “It would potentially cause huge disruption to businesses on both sides of the Channel, and we are working very hard to avoid that, but we also have to recognise that it is a possibility as we get closer and we have to be prepared for it.
“It’s very important that the Europeans that we are negotiating with know that we are prepared for it, that no deal is better than a bad deal, and that we will only sign up to a deal that is right for Britain.
“The Chequers agreement is the foundation for that.”
14.49pm update: 10 EU ministers delay conference
A raft of questions from the EU and Michel Barnier have been put to Theresa May.
Mr Barnier was delayed in his press conference after 10 countries and 10 ministers were all “putting their hands up” to raise questions on Mrs May’s plan.
There are areas that are being seriously questioned by the EU including the Brexit backstop.
The 20 percent, which has not bee agreed and includes the Northern Ireland agreement to no hard border is still a large sticking point. It seems the EU will not be working off the white paper as a negotiating text.
Theresa May issued Barnier a warning today
14.30pm update: Agreement deadline could be postponed, says Barnier
Michel Barnier suggested the deadline to finalise the Brexit deal, currently set for October, could be extended into November.
But it could not go beyond the start of December as the UK has already stated in its legislation it will leave the union on March 2019.
He said: “If you count down, take away the months that are necessary for ratification, that basically means that we have to note that there is or there is not an agreement before December.
“We will have to take stock of the situation and we will do our best to note that there is a Withdrawal Agreement. We are not far.”
14.25pm update: Barnier raises questions over the UK’s white paper
Michel Barnier told reporters he had raised a number of issues concerning the white paper to Dominic Raab, including plans for the common rulebook.
He said because the plan only included alignment for goods checked at the border it would mean rules on areas like pesticide use in the agro-food sector were not included.
He said: ”So, how can we protect consumers in Europe?” he said.
The negotiating chief raised concerns about how the EU would avoid “unfair competition” from Britain if it agrees to the plan for divergence on services.
He added: “Our main aim is to protect the EU’s single market, to protect what we are,” he said.
14.20pm update: Barnier admits EU is preparing for a no-deal scenario
Michel Barnier said the EU had a responsibility “to be prepared for all scenarios, including no deal”.
He added that there were other issues to be resolved, as well as the Irish border, as part of the withdrawal agreement, including the British military bases in Cyprus and the situation regarding Gibraltar.
He said: ”Each of these issues is important and we need to have agreement on each and every one of these issues – agreement on them is necessary prior to us adopting a withdrawal agreement.
“With the UK we also need to draw up the joint political declaration on the future relationship by October.
“At this stage in the negotiations we don’t have many weeks left but actually it is not a matter of needing more time, it’s a matter of choosing the right decisions and being absolutely clear.”
14.11pm update: Barnier on a no deal date
Michel Barnier has said it is Britain not the EU that has set the date for Brexit as March 2019 – as a result negotiators have little choice but to decide whether there is an agreement or not by December.
He said: “My aim is to reach an agreement, its a complex set of negotiations. European Union enterprises and businesses should not bear the brunt of leaving the EU. It is the EU who chose the deadline for Brexit not us. We have to decide whether there is or isn’t an agreement before December.”
He added that only 20 per cent of the text is still to be agreed upon – mainly the backstop rules.
He added that he was willing to amend the backstop rules slightly as May called the EU’s demands ‘unworkable’
14.09pm update: Prepare for a no deal
Barnier said: “We must prepare for a no deal – we should be ready. We are encouraging national companies to accelerate these preparations.”
14.05pm update: Michel Barnier warns against creating more bureaucracy with the white paper
Michel Barnier said some of the elements within the white paper will open up constructive discussions – but many questions remained.
He said: “As I told the ministers, there are several elements in this white paper that open the way to a constructive discussion regarding the political declaration on our future relationship”, Barnier told a news conference in Brussels following a meeting of EU ministers.
However, Barnier added many questions remained and the proposals in the white paper needed to be workable and should not create more bureaucracy.
Michel Barnier spoke about the UK’s white paper in Brussels
14.00pm update: Barnier urges the UK to act because “we can’t loose time on the border issue”
Michel Barnier said he had made clear to his UK counterpart Dominique Raab that the EU was not asking for a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
But he said checks on goods would be needed because the UK wants to leave the single market and the customs union.
He said: “We cannot afford to lose time on this issue and this is why we have invited the UK to work on the backstop next week.
“We are open to any solutions as long as they are workable and can be transformed into a legally operative text in time for the withdrawal agreement.”
13.55pm update: Gibraltar must be included in the deal
Express.co.uk’s Brussels correspondent saw members taking the floor at the end of the meeting.
While Michel Barnier is holding his press conference, the minister of Spain stressed the importance of reaching an agreement over Gibraltar.
He said: “Without a deal on Gibraltar there can’t be a withdrawal agreement”
13.50pm update: Barnier wants to stop Britain having a competitive edge
Michel Barnier spoke of Theresa May’s Brexit plan calling for more detail on the customs union.
He said that the EU would not allow Britain’s businesses to have a competitive edge over the EU.
13.45pm update: Michel Barnier speaks positively about the white paper
Saying it opens to many good proposals, Mr Barnier singled out the proposals concerning a free trade agreement, the commitment to a level state field and a broad convergence on the need to cooperate on internal and external security.
He continued: “What is important is that it guarantees to defend rights and role played by the European Court of Justice.
“This breakthrough and report of the UK means the exchange of data will be easier.”
13.38pm update: Michel Barnier finally arrives at press conference after his meeting with EU27
Michel Barnier is holding a press conference with Gernot Blumel, the Austrian government’s EU minister, as the country currently holds the EU presidency.
Mr Barnier said there must be a degree of transparency and objectivity between the EU27 during the Brexit negotiations.
He continued saying the EU’s main objective is to finalise the agreement with the UK.
He also spoke about the meeting with Dominique Raab, saying it was very “cordial and productive”.
13.30pm update: German Europe minister blasts UK saying it’s “hard to be an optimist” with the political difficulties in London
Ahead of the summit with Michel Barnier, Michael Roth was asked if the political situation in the UK made him more or less optimistic about the prospect of a deal.
He said: “I will remain an optimist, but it’s hard to be an optimist in these challenging times.
“We are extremely aware of the current situation. Nobody wants to punish the British government or the British people, not at all.
“We are negotiating on the basis of the guidelines.
“But guidelines are no red lines, but we are committed to these guidelines for the next negotiations. Time is running out, the clock is ticking and that’s why I am a little bit nervous.”
Michel Barnier speaking at the press conference in Brussels
13.20pm update: Barnier press conference delayed again
Michel Barnier, who was initially due to speak to reporters at 12pm, will now hold his press conference at 2pm, the Brussels correspondent of Express.co.uk has learned.
The EU chief negotiator is currently holding a meeting with Europe ministers from the EU27 to discuss the state of the Brexit negotiations with the UK and possibly analyse Britain’s white paper.
12.52pm update: Barnier due to talk to the press at 1.30pm – conference delayed an hour
Michel Barnier was due to talk to the press at midday but the conference has been delayed by an hour and a half.
Some are suggesting there may be conflict between nation states on the resolution on Mrs May’s plan.
Chief EU negotiator for Brexit, Michel Barnier (R) attends the General Affairs Council
12.30pm update: Northern Ireland Secretary warns against a no-deal Brexit
Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley warned there would be an impact from crashing out of the EU.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If we crashed out with absolutely no relationship with the European Union there would be an awful lot of implications from that and we have quite rightly been planning for it.
“But what we are planning for is actually getting the deal.”
Ms Bradley also dismissed the EU’s backstop border proposals.
She said: “The idea that we would have a border down the Irish Sea, which would mean that Northern Irish and GB businesses doing business with each other would have to fill in customs declarations in advance of shipment going across the Irish Sea, is inconceivable. It is not acceptable and the Prime Minister will not accept it.”
12.00pm update: Government’s chief whip has made a “honest mistake” says May
The Prime Minister defended Julian Smith, known as the government’s chief whip, saying he had made an honest mistake by breaking a so-called pairing agreement at a crucial Brexit vote.
She added both he and the party’s chairman had already apologised.
When asked by a reporter if she could be trusted, Theresa May said: “There was an honest mistake made for which the chief whip and indeed Brandon Lewis have both apologised to the member concerned.”
Mr Smith told some Tories MP to break a pairing arrangement with rival parties that ensures genuine absences do not skew votes in parliament.
Conservative Chairman Brandon Lewis followed the advice and voted with the government at a key Brexit vote on Tuesday even though his “pair”, Liberal Democrat lawmaker Jo Swinson, was away as she had just given birth.
Michel Barnier is in Brussels for a 2-hour meeting on Brexit
11.35am update: Backstop no longer necessary, says May
A backstop should no longer be necessary as we have new proposals, Theresa May said answering reporters’ questions.
She added the UK has made fresh proposals and moved on from former options, urging the EU to do the same.
She said: “It is now for the EU to respond, not simply to fall back on previous positions which have already been proven unworkable but to evolve their position in kind.”
11.22am update: White Paper proposals can move on the Brexit talks, says May
Theresa May defended her Chequers plan during the Belfast speech.
Saying it delivers a good Brexit that works for everyone, she warned the EU not to fall back onto earlier proposals but to “evolve”.
11.20am update: May speaks about Brexit – hard border is an “almost inconceivable” idea
Theresa May said: Our job is not to deal with Brexit in theory but to make it a success in practise for all of our people, especially in Northern Ireland.”
She said Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK sharing a border with a EU country, Ireland.
She then went on insisting an hard border is not an option.
Mrs May said: “In the Northern Ireland of today, where a seamless border enables unprecedented levels of trade and co-operation North and South, any form of infrastructure at the border is an alien concept.
“The seamless border is a foundation stone on which the Belfast Agreement rests, allowing for the just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos and aspirations of both communities.
“Anything that undermines that is a breach of the spirit of the Belfast Agreement – an agreement that we have committed to protect in all its parts and the EU says it will respect.”
She said the UK must work together with the EU to solve the border issue, but made clear any Brexit agreement would have to provide frictionless trade across the border.
Mrs May also said the whole of the UK will leave the EU and won’t leave behind Northern Ireland.
Theresa May is delivering a speech in Belfast
11.15am update: Theresa May vows to protect “our precious union”
Theresa May says her priority is the union between Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England.
She said: “As we leave the EU, I have made protecting and strengthening our own precious union – by making sure the deal we strike works for every part of the UK – an absolute priority.”
She then moved on speaking about the current political situation in Northern Ireland.
She said: “It is a matter of frustration and regret that after enjoying the longest period of unbroken devolved government since the 1960s, Northern Ireland has now been without a fully functioning executive for over 18 months.”
She added: “I want to see the assembly and the executive back, taking decisions on behalf of all of the people of Northern Ireland.
But, she added, “peace will be protected”.
She continued saying she wants to see the assembly and executive up and running as soon as possible, but “an agreement can’t be imposed, it has to come within Northern Ireland.”
She added: “A first step has to be the resumption of political dialogue aimed at finding a solution and that should begin as soon as possible.”
She said that “interventions from Westminster are no substitute for decisions taken here”.
She added she shares concern about serious disorder in some part of Northern Ireland including Londonderry over recent weeks.
Theresa May said a backstop should not be necessary with the UK’s new proposal
11.05am update: Theresa May delivers her speech
Theresa May is speaking at Waterfront Hall.
She started speaking about the importance of maintaining the UK a union that can’t be separated under any circumstances.
She said the country is as unite as never before as we leave the EU.
She said leaving the union will make possible to strike trade deals with other countries.
She added Northern Ireland is home to great universities and a cinema powerhouse.
She continued: “The rest of the UK is by far the biggest market for Northern Ireland.”
11.00am update: Protests follow Mrs May
Protesters from the victims community in Northern Ireland and also those in favour of an Irish Language Act gathered outside the Waterfront Hall in Belfast for Theresa May’s arrival.
However the Prime Minister slipped in a different door and was not confronted by those carrying various banners.
10.50am update: Theresa May heads to the Waterfront Hall in Belfast amid protests
Theresa May has left the Crescent Art Centre in Belfast to shouts of “Redress now!” by protesting crowds of victims of state institutional abuse.
She will travel to the Waterfront Hall to give a speech on Brexit.
10.45am update: Theresa May urged to ‘take control of the situation’
He said: “Northern Ireland is being offered no certainty on Brexit.
“This is both due to not having an Assembly and Executive in place, but it is also a result of some of the shenanigans going on in Westminster where party political manoeuvres and future career prospects seem to be taking precedence over the national interest.
“Our message to the Prime Minister was that this part of the United Kingdom is as deserving of good governance as England, Scotland or Wales.
“We asked her to take control of the situation.
“If her Government cannot put in place an initiative that will see devolution restored, then she must move to appoint ministers who can bring some stability back to Northern Ireland; the never-ending drift and uncertainty must end.”
Theresa May was questioned over her coalition with the DUP
10.15am: Theresa May faces protests ahead of speech
People gathered outside the Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast ahead of Theresa May’s visit there.
The protest is attended by some 100 people from different groups fighting for what they call state injustices.
Among them there are state child abuse victims, families of those murdered by state forces during the Northern Ireland conflict and LGBT rights campaigners holding placards and signs.
Sinn Fein Senator Niall O Donnghaile is also attending.
He said: “There’s a broad range of groups here and that represents the broad range of issues outstanding in our society, and the broad range of commitments made by the British Government that still remain unfulfilled.
“That ranges from an Irish Language Act, legacy issues, women’s reproductive health, marriage equality – they’re all represented here.
“We hope Theresa May gets the message when she’s here that everything isn’t rosy in the garden.”
Upon her arrival, Mrs May was questioned by a teenager over her government coalition with the DUP.
He said: “I think your coalition infringes people’s rights here.”
Mrs May replied: “In government, we work for and represent all communities.”
10.05am update: EU officials accused the UK of “cherry-picking” again
The EU hasn’t yet issued an official reaction the the White Paper.
But many EU officials and diplomats have blasted the document as yet another example of Britain trying to “cherry-pick” EU benefits.
According to Politico, these officials believe Britain can’t take part to the single market while refusing to accept the free movement of workers.
9.45am update: Government to send weekly ‘bundles’ to advise on no-deal Brexit
Theresa May’s government is preparing a series of weekly public warnings about the impact on British lives of a no-deal Brexit, it was claimed last night.
According to The Times, consumers and companies will receive some 70 technical notices on no-deal contingencies.
This move comes after the EU released a briefing on Brecit preparations, explaining its members and bodies how to prepare for a no-deal scenario.
Among the issues raised, the EU warned “transport between the EU and UK will be severely impacted” and EU funding will be gone from Britain.
9.20 update: May to meet Sinn Fein amid criticism
Later this morning Theresa May will meet with representatives from Sinn Fein, the Ulster Unionists and Alliance Party.
Ahead of the meeting, Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald heavily criticised Mrs May’s handling of the Brexit process.
She said: “The British government’s Brexit chaos has been marked by prevarication and stalling, ever changing positions and broken agreements.
“This situation is intolerable and unacceptable.”
9.10am update: Irish finance minister speaks about a possible alternative to the backstop
The minister said his country is open to the possibility of an alternative “backstop” deal between Britain and the EU to prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland so long as it is better than the EU’s current proposal and is legally operable
Mr Donohoe said: “The Irish government is very clear that the Irish backstop must be retained for any future agreement between the EU and the UK to be put in place.
“The only thing that could replace this current form of a backstop is, No. 1 something which is better; No. 2 something which is agreed and No. 3 something that would be legally operable.
“This is the view of the Irish government and the European Union.”
Leo Varadkar, prime minister of Ireland, blasted the UK
08.54am update: Barnier arrives for Brussels two-hour talks at summit
Michel Barnier has arrived to brief EU 27 European affairs ministers on the current state of Brexit talks in the first major Brussels summit since the white paper was released.
The General Affairs Council meeting will involve a two-hour discussion of the withdrawal treaty, the Irish border issue and the white paper. Barnier is expected to deliver his verdict in a press conference at midday.
08.45 am update: Irish Minister of Finance praises Theresa May
Paschal Luke Donohoe, the Irish Minister of Finance, said he believed Mrs May’s commitment to an open border was “genuine and sincere.”
EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier
08.00am update: Theresa May to urge Brussels to be more cooperative
Speaking at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall, the Prime Minister will say that following the publication of the Government’s white paper agreed at Chequers, it is “now for the EU to respond”.
She will add: “Not simply to fall back on to previous positions which have already been proven unworkable. But to evolve their position in kind.
“And, on that basis, I look forward to resuming constructive discussions.”
06.00am update: Irish Prime Minister attacks the UK
Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar suggested British planes could be banned from flying in Irish airspace.
He said: “The situation at the moment is that the United Kingdom is part of the single European sky, and if they leave the EU they are not and that does mean that if there was a no deal, hard Brexit next March, the planes would not fly.
“If they want their planes to fly over our skies, they would need to take that into account.”
But his outburst received immediate backlash, with one Brussels’ official urging him to avoid “tit-for-tat”.
The official, involved in negotiations, said: “I don’t think it will happen. Ireland is very keen on having a withdrawal agreement. They are the most affected.
“Practically all lorry traffic from Ireland to the continent goes via England so it wouldn’t be a good idea to get into a tit-for-tat.”