Professor Carl Baudenbacher told MPs today the European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator still believes Britain will stay in the single market after the UK leaves the EU.
Mr Barnier made the claim during a presentation on January 19, Prof Baudenbacher said today, as he spoke at a Westminster committee on exiting the EU in Westminster Hall.
During the debate he encouraged the UK to join the EFTA Court after Brexit, or partially join in what he called ‘docking’, saying it could provide a quick and effective solution to Brexit’s legal conundrum.
The European Free Trade Association Court oversees access and membership to the single market for Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, which are not members of the EU but are in the European Economic Area (EEA), where they follow EU rulings and European law.
Mr Baudenbacher said: “What I found interesting in a presentation on 19 January of this year was that docking is also mentioned by the group headed by Mr Barnier.
“Docking would be a partial participation in the EEA. I cannot say (the EU) are encouraging (that the UK joins EFTA but not the EEA), but the sheer fact EU people are thinking about keeping Britain in the single market by way of using these EFTA institutions indicates to me that they imply this.
“Because they must be aware of the fact that fully fledged free movement of people in the UK is a political difficulty, but they are discussing this.”
He did stress that ‘docking’ is unchartered, calling it “unchartered terrain”.
Officials have not commented on the “docking” options, which have only been sketched out in ‘secret’ Swiss and EU negotiation papers. Switzerland is a member of EFTA but not the Court.
Prof Baudenbacher proposed three options – Britain could become a fully-fledged EFTA member, it could “dock” to the court and adopt some of its principles on a long-term basis, or it could dock for a shorter period, during the post-Brexit transition.
Britain’s Brexit minister David Davis has previously said the UK government had considered becoming a full EFTA member but ruled it out as “the worst of all outcomes”.
But Mr Baudenbacher said national supreme courts would still retain control, as they did not have to refer European cases to the EFTA Court, and decisions from EFTA are “strictly advisory” rather than “binding”.
The Judge also said that if Britain applied to join EFTA, the EU would have no vote – just the existing members.
However, if the UK was to apply to join the EEA, the EU would have a say as it is a “contracted party”.
Norway has already expressed doubts about Britain’s re-joining EFTA itself, which it helped to found in 1960 but later left. Iceland and Liechtenstein have made some positive noises and top EU officials have also flagged it as option, however.
Mr Baudenbacher stressed he was just giving his own opinion, not the opinion of the EFTA.