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27th May 2019

EU and UK voice mistrust in Brexit talks

  • "How can we build trust and start discussing a future relationship?", said Michel Barnier. (Photo: European Commission)

The EU and UK's top negotiators showed the extent of their mutual mistrust on Thursday (31 August), overshadowing the progress made on some issues in this week's Brexit talks.

"We are quite far from being able to say that sufficient progress has taken place," EU negotiator Michel Barnier said in a joint press conference with UK Brexit secretary David Davis.

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EU leaders will decide at a summit in October if there was enough progress on three issues - citizens' rights, the Irish border, and the UK's financial settlement - to start talks on future UK trade relations.

The UK wants to start the trade talks as soon as possible.

But with just two more rounds of talks to go before the October summit, Barnier suggested he had no real trust in Davis.

"How can we build trust and start discussing a future relationship?", he said.

He said the UK had made some "useful clarifications" this week, but that there was "no decisive progress" and too much "uncertainty" remained on the UK's position.

He also accused the UK of having backtracked on the financial settlement.

"In July, the UK recognised that it has obligations beyond the Brexit date," he said. "But this week the UK explained that these obligations will be limited to their last payment to the EU budget before departure."

"After this week, it is clear that the UK does not feel legally obliged to honour these obligations after departure," he said.

Barnier added that "EU taxpayers should not pay at 27 for the obligations undertaken at 28. This would not be fair."

Davis said the UK had "a very different legal stance" on the issue.

He said that the settlement "should be in accordance with law and in the spirit of the UK's continuing partnership with the EU".

In a jab at Barnier, he added that this week's discussions "have exposed yet again that the UK's approach is substantially more flexible and pragmatic than that of the EU."

"My message to Michel is: Let's continue to work together constructively, to put people above process," he said.


During the talks, UK negotiators said the EU budget's multi-annual frameworks provided no legal requirement on how to spend the money.

"A proper approach is to go through line by line and see whether or not legal obligations are correctly clarified," Davis told reporters on Thursday.

"We are in frontal contradiction with that legal analysis," an EU official said.

The UK indicated that it did not feel legally obliged to pay anything after they left the EU, according to the official, who said that this was not a negotiating position but rather what would happen if no deal was reached.

Minor progress

Despite the dead-end on the financial settlement, negotiators made progress on other issues.

Positions came closer on the mutual recognition of professional qualifications and on the right to set up a business, but remained far apart on healthcare rights, especially in the case of a UK citizen who lived in one EU country but travelled to another one for treatment.

The UK agreed to accept rulings by the EU Court of Justice that were brought by the court before Brexit.

In the discussion on Ireland, the EU official said that EU negotiators were "reassured" by British guarantees to maintain the provisions of the Common Travel Area between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

That means that citizens from EU countries would not be checked at the border.

North-South cooperation on the island was also discussed, especially on healthcare or events like floods.

The EU official noted that the bilateral issues were more complex than initially thought because many rested within an EU legal framework.

"We will sit down and look at the whole panoply," the official said.

Irish overlap

Talks on the Irish issue could rest on the October summit decision on when to start negotiations on the future relationship.

On many areas, Davis pointed out, "there is an unavoidable overlap between withdrawal and the future and they cannot be neatly compartmentalised."

He called again on the EU to be "flexible and imaginative."

But Barnier cut short Davis' remarks, insisting that he had to respect the mandate agreed by the 27 EU leaders.

He said anyone who tried to create differences between his team and the EU27 capitals was "wasting their time".

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