EU negotiator Michel Barnier urges Britain to give more ‘clarity’ in Brexit talks

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator urges the UK to provide clarifications at the end of the first full round of negotiations in Brussels.
United Kingdom Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis (left), and Michel Barnier (right) speak at a joint news conference at the EU Commission, in Brussels, Belgium on July 20, 2017.
United Kingdom Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis (left), and Michel Barnier (right) speak at a joint news conference at the EU Commission, in Brussels, Belgium on July 20, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

BRUSSELS (AFP) – The European Union’s Brexit negotiator called on Britain on Thursday (July 20) to give more clarity on key issues including its exit bill and the rights of citizens after the second round of talks wrapped up in Brussels.

Michel Barnier said “fundamental” differences had emerged during this week’s negotiations with British counterpart David Davis.

“We require this clarification on the financial settlement, citizens rights and on Ireland,” Barnier, a former French foreign minister and European Commissioner, told a joint press conference with Davis.

Davis said the talks had been “robust but constructive” but that there was “a lot left to talk about.” “A solution will require flexibility from both sides,” he added.

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The Brexit talks are the second round since negotiations formally began in June, a year after Britain’s historic referendum vote to leave the 28-member EU.

The negotiations are dealing with issues around Britain’s divorce – Britain’s exit bill, the rights of EU citizens living in Britain, and the Northern Ireland border – with talks on a future trade deal only set to start if leaders decide in October there has been “sufficient progress”.

The EU wants an outline deal agreed by October 2018, so that the European and British parliaments can approve it in time for Brexit day, which is scheduled for the end of March 2019.

Barnier warned there was a “fundamental divergence” with Britain on whether the EU’s top court would keep jurisdiction over the rights of three million European citizens living in Britain after the UK leaves the bloc.

Barnier also urged Britain to set out its position on the amount that Brussels says it must pay before leaving, to settle its obligations under the EU budget.
The EU estimates that Britain owes a net amount of 100 billion euros, a sum London has dismissed as “extortionate”.

“Clarification of the United Kingdom’s position is essential” on the bill, Barnier said. “We want an orderly exit, and an orderly exit requires Britain to settle its accounts.” .

SCALLOPS AND LAMB

Davis was due to host Barnier later on  Thursday at the British ambassador’s residence in Brussels to discuss the progress of the negotiations over a meal of Scottish scallops followed by lamb, a British official said.

The lunch will be the two negotiators’ first discussion on what is officially British soil after all their previous talks took place at the headquarters of the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm.

Davis himself has only been in Brussels on Monday and Thursday, with a team of 98 British negotiators looking after most of the talks in the interim on his behalf.

Despite the EU’s call for more clarity, sources close to the negotiations said Britain would not agree on any figure for the divorce bill until the very end of the talks.

The disagreement over the European Court of Justice promises to come up throughout the negotiations, the sources added.

On the border between Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland, there has been “goodwill” over maintaining the Good Friday peace agreement and on keeping the common travel area on the island, sources said.

But agreement on how to prevent a “hard border” for the movement of goods and people in Ireland will have to wait until later, they said.

British officials meanwhile rejected “ludicrous” reports that it had come into the talks underprepared, following a photograph of an empty-handed Davis on Monday across the table from Barnier, who had a stack of papers.