Brexit progress, but not enough for trade talks to start

Michel Barnier, chief negotiator for the European Union (EU), praised a "new dynamic" created by concessions made last week by British Prime Minister Theresa May.
Michel Barnier, chief negotiator for the European Union (EU), praised a "new dynamic" created by concessions made last week by British Prime Minister Theresa May. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

EU negotiator highlights citizens' rights, UK financial commitment as areas of discord

BRUSSELS • The European Union and Britain made progress in the latest round of divorce talks, but not enough to move to the next phase of discussions on a transition period after Brexit or a future trade deal, top negotiators said.

"We have had a constructive week, yes, but we are not yet there in terms of achieving sufficient progress. Further work is needed in the coming weeks and months," chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier told reporters yesterday, while praising a "new dynamic" created by concessions made last week by British Prime Minister Theresa May.

She had hoped that a speech she made in Florence last Friday would unblock the three-month-old talks and pave the way for the EU to open discussions on a post-Brexit free trade deal by allowing Mr Barnier to tell EU leaders that there is "sufficient progress" on three key "divorce" issues - rights for expatriate citizens, the Northern Irish border and how much Britain owes.

Britain's Brexit Secretary David Davis said they had made "considerable progress" in four days of talks in Brussels and repeated his eagerness to move on to discuss what happens after Brexit in March 2019.

Mr Barnier highlighted two key areas of disagreement.

First, on citizens' rights, he welcomed a confirmation from Mr Davis that the withdrawal treaty guaranteeing the rights of three million EU citizens in Britain should have "direct effect" in British law - effectively, Britain cannot change them via new legislation. But Brussels continues to demand that people also have the right to pursue grievances at the EU's own court.

Second, Mr Barnier said Britain had clarified that an offer by Mrs May that the other 27 member states should not lose out financially from Brexit during the current EU budget period ending at the end of 2020 would cover payments only in 2019 and 2020. That, he said, was not enough. Commitments agreed in the current budget also lead to outward payments in subsequent years, he said.

MORE WORK NEEDED

We have had a constructive week, yes, but we are not yet there in terms of achieving sufficient progress. Further work is needed in the coming weeks and months.

CHIEF EU NEGOTIATOR MICHEL BARNIER, on why trade talks between the EU and Britain cannot start yet.

Further on the money issue, which both sides say has become the most intractable, Mr Barnier said Britain had yet to specify which commitments it would honour after Mrs May said that it would do so. The EU has estimated that Britain will owe tens of billions of euros to cover outstanding liabilities.

"For the EU, the only way to reach sufficient progress is that all commitments undertaken by the 28 are honoured by the 28," Mr Barnier said.

Mr Davis declined to put a figure on what Britain might pay.

The two sides are due to meet again in just under two weeks, on Oct 9. Were Mr Barnier to judge those talks have made "sufficient progress" - a deliberately vague term set by the EU 27 - he would be in a position to recommend to leaders at a summit on Oct 19-20 that they let him launch trade talks with Britain.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2017, with the headline 'Brexit progress, but not enough for trade talks to start'. Print Edition | Subscribe