Thursday

24th Jan 2019

EU rejects UK claim it's slowing Brexit talks

  • British PM Theresa May and EU Council chief Donald Tusk. May is not expected to bring new proposals to the European Council (Photo: Consilium)

The EU hit back at British suggestions that the bloc is slowing down Brexit talks, saying it is ready to unlock trade talks at soon as the UK delivers on the divorce issues.

"I am ready to accelerate the rhythm of the talks but it takes two to accelerate," the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier told reporters Tuesday in Luxembourg.

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"We are ready to speed up negotiations, we don't have any intention of holding up any process," he added later.

His British counterpart, David Davis, meanwhile told MPs in Westminster that the EU is not ready to move in the negotiations because it wants to extract more money from the UK.

"[And] they are using time pressure to see if they can get more money out of us. Bluntly, that's what's going on. It is obvious to anybody..." Davis said.

The UK's blame game comes as EU leaders get ready for their summit later this week, where they will say that there has not been sufficient progress on key divorce issues achieved in Brexit talks so far, therefore negotiations on trade and future relations cannot yet start.

One of the major obstacles has been the UK's reluctance to spell out what previous financial commitments it is willing to pay.

EU leaders on Friday (20 October) will nevertheless make a gesture to British prime minister Theresa May.

They are expected to state their readiness to kick off internal preparations to be able to give the green light to trade and future talks at the December summit once sufficient progress has been achieved.

May has been arguing that she took a political risk with her Florence speech last month in which she said the UK would honour financial commitments entered by the UK as an EU member.

EU officials suggested the the EU-27 are already showing flexibility by starting internal talks on the next phase of negotiations.

"[The summit conclusions] give a very clear perspective on a way forward, and a readiness for the EU to engage already now on updating the negotiating mandate," a senior EU official said.

"Once sufficient progress is achieved we are not going to waste time, [we] almost immediately can start talks on issues in the second phase," the official added.

"We would not have that if it were not for May's Florence speech," the source said.

"Since Theresa May's Florence speech we have noted a new dynamic, what is needed. We have to do everything we can to maintain this dynamic and uphold it in particularly in the next two months," Barnier said Tuesday.

However there is no guarantee that talks will move into the second phase in December.

"We are not confident, we are hopeful," the EU official said on whether sufficient progress will be met in December.

At the European Council later this week Theresa May wants to take the floor to explain to fellow leaders the Brexit policy.

But the UK is not expected to make any new offers at the summit.

Something has to move

However, for things to gain momentum, the UK has to make specific proposals on the financial settlement.

"What we ask [from the UK] for is not to have a sum by December, but what commitments would be honoured and then we can move into the second phase," Ales Chmelar, Czech state secretary for EU affairs told reporters after a ministerial meeting in Luxembourg.

He added EU ministers understand the internal political pressure May is facing.

Finland's EU affairs minister Samuli Virtanen however sounded less understanding, saying May's difficult domestic position is making the "the situation on the negotiating process a bit difficult."

"The EU-27 is now more unanimous than [the] UK-1. That's one of the main problems here," he quipped.

"Some find it very difficult to see and understand what Britain really wants from these negotiations," he added.

Brexit 'deadlock' prevents move to trade negotiations

EU negotiator Barnier also said after the latest round of Brexit talks that with political will, progress can be achieved in the next two months - in time for the December EU summit to give the green light.

Analysis

May on mission impossible in Brussels

UK prime minister called on other EU leaders to "step forward together", but she has almost nothing to offer them except the threat of walking away.

EU begins preparations for Brexit trade talks

The EU has launched internal preparations for phase two of Brexit talks, but a December breakthrough only possible if UK gives more detail on divorce issues first.

Europeans more positive about EU, survey shows

On balance, 55 percent of British respondents said the UK had benefited from EU membership. Among all European respondents, 47 percent said their voice counted in the EU.

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