Wednesday

22nd May 2019

Round of Brexit talks to end in bad blood

  • "We need to know their position and then I can be flexible," said EU negotiator Michel Barnier (r). (Photo: European Commission)

The third round of Brexit talks will end on Thursday (31 August) in Brussels, with little progress in sight and no easing of the tension between the EU and UK sides.

"To be flexible you need two points, our point and their point. We need to know their position and then I can be flexible," EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier told reporters on the sidelines of the talks, according to the Bloomberg press agency.

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In a message posted on Twitter, he also insisted that his negotiation guidelines, which were established by EU leaders, are "designed for serious and constructive negotiations" and that he needs "clear" positions from the UK government "on all issues".

Barnier will conclude the round of talks in a meeting with UK Brexit secretary David Davis on Thursday morning, followed by a joint press conference.

But while talks have been described as very technical, no real progress has been made so far on the key withdrawal issues - citizens' rights, the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland and the Brexit financial settlement.

Ireland was discussed on Wednesday afternoon, as part of a so-called dialogue that will continue throughout the negotiations. But a position paper published in London earlier this month failed to satisfy the EU and Ireland.

On citizens' rights, progress was made on some topics, such as frontier workers, but wide gaps remain on other issues like the health insurance card.

Talks on what happens with goods after the UK leaves the EU and the single market are also ongoing, on what sources called "incredibly technical areas".

The main point of contention remains the financial settlement, while UK negotiators rebuked EU claims for a bill of up to €100 billion.

On Tuesday, in a 3-hour-long session, the British side presented a legal analysis of the settlement and argued that the EU cannot ask the UK to pay into the EU budget until the end of the current multi-annual budget programme in 2020.

UK negotiators, who strongly rejected EU accusations that they are not serious, presented an 11-page analysis.

'Maximalist' EU

They argued that the so-called Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF) and other documents used by the EU to calculate the UK's commitments are only "overarching documents", and that they provide no legal requirement on how to spend the money.

Sources with knowledge of the UK position said that Britain considers the EU approach of budget issues as "top down" and "maximalist" and that nobody would sign a cheque on the basis of the EU's four-page position paper.

Barnier's team took note and will assess the UK analysis ahead of the next round of talks in September. But the two sides seem to be very far apart on that crucial issue.

An EU source told the Daily Telegraph that the EU negotiators were "flabbergasted" and that the UK presentation was "a total amazement".

The soundbite, as well as Barnier's comment, is part of an ongoing communications battle between the EU and the UK that has been rising all week.

Each side is accusing the other of preventing progress and of jeopardising the talks.

On Monday, Barnier warned that he was "concerned" by the slow progress made since the beginning of the Brexit process before summer, and called on the UK side to "start negotiating seriously".

The UK retorted through an anonymous source - like before, in the Telegraph - that the EU chief negotiator's comments were "inconsistent, ill-judged, ill-considered and unhelpful".

On Tuesday, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said that "none" of the 11 UK position papers were "actually satisfactory".

'Symbolic weather'

And, on Wednesday, the European Parliament's Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, warned that "if [the negotiation] goes very slow, as it is the case at the moment, it will be very difficult to say there is sufficient progress when we are in October."

At an EU summit on 19-20 October, EU leaders will assess the progress achieved and decide whether to open talks on the future of the EU-UK relationship.

The UK government, on the other side, is pushing to open the second phase of talks as soon as possible and is accusing the EU of rigidity.

During a visit to Japan on Wednesday, UK prime minister Theresa May insisted that: "It is the United Kingdom that has been coming forward with the ideas and with the clarity about the future."

Meanwhile, in Brussels on Wednesday afternoon, some meetings were still going on during a massive rain shower over the city.

"It's very symbolic weather," a source quipped, referring to the mood in the negotiation rooms and corridors.

UK pushes for stage two of Brexit talks

"We’re in a good position, and would like to move on to discuss our future relationship”, the UK said on Tuesday, despite Commission warnings on slow progress.

Let's get serious, EU tells UK

EU and British negotiators started the third round of Brexit talks amid growing disagreement on how the process is going.

UK dismisses €54bn EU bill report

David Davis denied report that the UK prime minister had agreed to an exit bill, saying the EU commission risked making itself look "silly".

Johnson challenges May on hard Brexit

In yet an another attempt at becoming Tory leader, the UK foreign secretary argues for a hard Brexit, while PM Theresa May is expected to set out her strategy, including a financial settlement with the EU, on Friday.

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