Little headway expected at latest round of Brexit talks

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker stressed on Tuesday that negotiations about a future EU-UK trading relationship after Britain leaves the European Union could only start once divorce issues were resolved.
Mr David Davis (left) with Mr Michel Barnier at a news conference ahead of the latest round of Brexit negotiations in Brussels on Monday.
Mr David Davis (left) with Mr Michel Barnier at a news conference ahead of the latest round of Brexit negotiations in Brussels on Monday.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

BRUSSELS • The gloves came off in the latest round of Brexit talks, with the European Union asking Britain to come clean on the money it owes and British negotiators exasperated at what they see as the EU's stubbornness.

The stage was set for an intense round of talks in Brussels as the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier and Brexit Secretary David Davis met for the first time since mid-July and candidly aired their views.

A plea for the EU to show flexibility and hurry talks along was immediately snubbed by Mr Barnier, who accused the United Kingdom of a lack of clarity. The British camp believes negotiations could progress if Mr Barnier's team did not follow its mandate to the letter.

With eight weeks to go until a key EU summit at which the bloc's leaders will be asked to judge whether the negotiations have made "sufficient progress" to allow the UK to open trade discussions, the talks have made little headway on Britain's financial settlement and plans for the Irish border.

A flurry of UK position papers failed to impress Mr Barnier while back in London, the main opposition party raised the stakes for embattled Prime Minister Theresa May by calling for Britain to stay in the single market and Customs union for up to four years after its departure on March 2019.

"There's growing impatience in Brussels - for the moment it seems that UK decision-makers are busy arguing at home," said deputy director of research at Teneo Intelligence Carsten Nickel. "If the papers question the agreed sequencing, then what we're actually seeing is a rolling back of progress achieved."

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker yesterday also lashed out at the UK's Brexit position documents, saying "none of them is satisfactory".

The UK's Bill remains the biggest stumbling block to an agreement, with Mr Davis determined not to tell the EU where it accepts it has obligations. This month, he told the BBC that this was part of his negotiators' "constructive ambiguity" approach to try to obtain a better deal.

Before meeting Mr Barnier, Mr Davis told reporters that "the week ahead is about driving forward the technical discussions across all the issues. But in order to do that, we'll require flexibility and imagination from both sides".

The UK does not appear to have given up on exploiting potential rifts between the European Commission and the countries that give it its mandate. Mr Davis at one point said some of the EU's 27 governments backed his demands.

Earlier on Monday, the French presidency denied a report in the Daily Telegraph that it was willing to take a softer stance on when trade talks could begin.

Neither the UK nor the EU is expecting much of a breakthrough this week even as both British and German business lobbies came together on Monday to call for "clarity and certainty".

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 30, 2017, with the headline 'Little headway expected at latest round of Brexit talks'. Print Edition | Subscribe