The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator has denied telling a group of European officials he wanted to “educate” the British people about leaving the EU.
It was reported over the weekend that Michel Barnier told a conference in Italy that Brexit provided an opportunity to “teach the British people and others what leaving the EU means”.
He was reported as saying he did not want to blackmail anyone but saw it as his job to “educate” the UK about the cost of quitting the EU “club”.
He was also reported to have said he wanted to get as much money out of the UK as possible as part of the ‘divorce bill’.
Image: Michel Barnier talking at the Ambrosetti conference in Cernobbio, Lake Como
On Monday, Mr Barnier posted on Twitter that he had aimed to “explain” the benefits for any country of being in the single market.
He tweeted: “I said: #Brexit = occasion to explain single market benefits in all countries, incl my own. We do not want to ‘educate’ or ‘teach lessons’.”
Mr Barnier’s comments were alleged to have been made to a group of elite European officials, brought together by a think tank called the European House – Ambrosetti.
Video: ‘Constructive’ meeting with Republic’s foreign minister
The comments he was originally reported to have made at the forum in the plush surroundings of the Villa d’Este on Lake Como were met with anger.
Conservative MP John Redwood told the Guardian that Mr Barnier’s “disobliging language” showed the EU was still in denial about Britain’s decision to quit the bloc.
“I think it’s very sad that the EU does not appear to be listening to the British people since the Brexit vote,” he said.
Mr Barnier announced last Friday that the ongoing talks between his department and the UK Government had failed to make “decisive progress”.
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Before the last set of talks ended in deadlock, Mr Barnier demanded that London start “negotiating seriously”.
Brexit Secretary David Davis hit back saying Brussels had made itself look “silly” by insisting that there had been no progress in the talks.
Mr Barnier reasserted his determination to achieve the EU’s aims as part of its negotiations as he met Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney on Monday.
He said that “every solution we will look at will have to be fully compatible with Union law”, including the EU principle of being able to do business across borders throughout the bloc.