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You can talk only to Michel Barnier on Brexit, French president Emmanuel Macron tells UK

Mark Dorman
Emmanuel Macron has dismissed talk that anyone other than Michel Barnier can lead the EU’s Brexit negotiations (AFP Photo/Yoan Valat)
Emmanuel Macron has dismissed talk that anyone other than Michel Barnier can lead the EU’s Brexit negotiations (AFP Photo/Yoan Valat)

French President Emmanuel Macron has ruled out any chance of British officials negotiating potential Brexit deals directly with member states.

Macron dismissed talk of earlier this week that the UK might be able to bypass the EU’s lead negotiator Michel Barnier.

He insisted Barnier – seen by many on the British team as being a major block to meaningful progress – was the only point of contact.

MORE: Labour’s deputy leader says the UK could stay in the single market permanently after Brexit

“I want to be very clear and reiterate our willingness of having only one negotiator and only one mandate,” Macron said in a joint news conference with Dutch premier Mark Rutte.

“The only negotiator is Michel Barnier and I would like to clear up ambiguities regarding false information that were spread,” he added.

“It is only once Mr Barnier will acknowledge sufficient progress has been made that we will be able to work on the next steps,” Macron said.

MORE: Brexit: EU officials left ‘flabbergasted’ as UK mandarins pull apart divorce bill

The Dutch premier added: “We both believe that more urgency is needed so I call here on the UK government to engage more strongly in order to achieve progress on these key issues.”

European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, right, is making little progress with Britain’s David Davis (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, right, is making little progress with Britain’s David Davis (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

The latest round of talks between Barnier and David Davis, the UK’s Brexit secretary, concluded this week with nothing concrete emerging.

Indeed, Barnier said there was “no decisive progress” with the issue of the divorce bill once again the major stumbling block.

He said the UK did not feel “legally obliged to honour its obligations” after Brexit. Although no figure has been officially revealed, it is understood to be anything between €60bn and €100bn to exit the bloc.

Davis has said while there will be something to pay, it should not have to be settled before talks on trade deals begin.

That impasse prompted speculation that the UK was seeking to bypass Barnier and talk directly to member states.

MORE: Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary launches scathing attack on Theresa May’s Brexit strategy

While Macron’s intervention seems to have closed that route off, Liam Fox, the UK international trade secretary, today said Britain should not allow itself to be “blackmailed” over the divorce settlement.

He told ITV News: “We can’t be blackmailed into paying a price on the first part (the divorce fee).

“We think we should begin discussions on the final settlement because that’s good for business, and it’s good for the prosperity both of the British people and of the rest of the people of the European Union.”