In an outburst that plunged the departure negotiations into a fresh stalemate, the EU diplomat claimed the period of adjustment proposed by Theresa May was “not a given”.
Mr Barnier added that Brussels was having “problems understanding the position” of the British Government over the proposed transition period.
He also raised the stakes in the row over the Irish border by claiming customs checks were “unavoidable” because of the Prime Minister’s insistence that the UK is quitting the European Single Market and customs union.
Tory Cabinet minister David Davis hit back this evening by branding Mr Barnier’s remarks “surprising” and said: ”Given the intense work that has taken place this week it is surprising to hear that Michel Barnier is unclear on the UK’s position in relation to the implementation period.”
Mr Davis acknowledged that “for any such period to work both sides will need a way to resolve disputes in the unlikely event that they occur”.
He continued: “But there is a fundamental contradiction in the approach the Commission is taking.
“Today they acknowledged that a way to resolve disputes and infringements is needed.
“Yet at the same time they dismissed the UK’s push for reasonable safeguards to ensure our interests are protected.
“It is not possible to have it both ways.”
“We must not lose sight of the ultimate aim here — to build a new comprehensive partnership between the UK and the EU that sees us stay as the closest of friends and allies.
“It is in that spirit that the UK continues to approach negotiations with the Commission.”
Brexit Secretary David Davis and Michel Barnier are airing their disagreements over the negotiations
The bad-tempered clash has left the talks in fresh deadlock, dramatically raising the chance of Britain quitting the EU without a deal with Brussels.
Mr Barnier’s salvo followed a week of sniping between the Government and Brussels over arrangements for the two-year implementation period following Brexit.
Ministers are furious that the EU wants sweeping powers to impose sanctions on the UK during the transition.
Mr Barnier, speaking at a news conference in Brussels, was unable to hide his irritation at Britain’s stance.
He claimed the UK had to accept the “ineluctable consequences” of the referendum vote to quit the EU.
And he said: “To be quite frank, if these disagreements persist, the transition is not a given.
“Time is short – very short – and we haven’t a minute to lose if we want to succeed.”
The two sides face a deadline of March 22 to agree the transition arrangements before talks on a trade deal can begin.
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Mr Barnier claimed to be unable to understand the “uproar” in Britain over the EU’s transition demands.
“There is no wish whatsoever to punish,” he said. “We are trying to draft an international agreement on a solid basis that can be effectively implemented.”
He also took a swipe at British negotiators by claiming that an update he had expected this week about Mrs May’s blueprint for the UK’s future relationship with the EU had failed to arrive on time.
He said a meeting with Mr Davis scheduled for yesterday to discuss the blueprint had been cancelled due to “diary difficulties” on the British side.
Michel Barnier and David Davis had a working lunch in London on Monday
Talks with the senior Tory earlier this week had proved “substantial” differences remained between London and Brussels about the transition arrangements.
Sticking points included the EU’s demand that any EU migrants arriving in Britain during the two years after Brexit came full rights to settle permanently in the country, he said.
He also rejected British demands for the Government to have the right to object to any new EU regulations imposed during the transition period.
Both sides also disagreed over the role of the EU’s Court of Justice over the two years.
David Davis has said there is a ‘fundamental contradiction’ in the European Commission’s approach
Mr Barnier said: “To be frank, I am surprised by these disagreements.
The positions of the EU are very logical, I think.
“The UK wants to enjoy the advantages of the single market, the customs union and common policies. It has therefore to accept all the rules and the obligations until the end of the transition. That’s very logical.
“It also has to accept the ineluctable consequences of its decision to leave the EU, to leave its institutions and its policies.”
Theresa May met Japanese business leaders yesterday and said a post-Brexit trade deal is possible
Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg has branded Mr Barnier’s comments ‘feeble’
Mr Barnier’s threat of customs checks provoked anger in Northern Ireland last night.
Democratic Unionist Party MP Ian Paisley, whose party backs Mrs May’s Brexit plans at Westminster, said: “Well then Mr Barnier, go right ahead and start building your hard border or else negotiate a sensible free trade deal with the UK. The choice is now yours.”
Senior backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg, who heads a 60-strong group of Euro-sceptic Tory MPs, last night denounced Mr Barnier’s threat as “feeble” and urged the Government to abandon the idea of a Brexit transition.
He said: “I would be happy to move to World Trade Organisation terms without a transition and save £39 billion that could be spent on the NHS. It is rather feeble as threats go.”