Stalemate In Brussels Talks - Hard Brexit Looking Increasingly Inevitable

Despite some progress being made during the latest round of divorce talks,  negotiators said today (28 Sept) that they are still a long way from being able to proceed to the next step. 

“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, praising a “new dynamic” created by concessions made last week by Prime Minister Theresa May. 

She hoped that a speech she made in Florence on 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 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. 

Barnier’s British counterpart, 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. 

Barnier, however, highlighted two key areas of disagreement. 

First, on citizens’ rights, he welcomed a confirmation from Davis that the withdrawal treaty guaranteeing the rights of 3 million EU citizens in Britain should have “direct effect” in British law: effectively, Britain cannot change them via new legislation. But the Union continues to demand that people also have the right to pursue grievances at the EU’s own court, which the UK will not recognise. 

Second, Barnier said Britain had clarified that an offer by May that the other 27 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. 

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

“For the EU, the only way to reach sufficient progress is that all commitments undertaken by the 28 are honored by the 28,” Barnier said. 

The two sides are due to meet again in just over two weeks, on Oct 9th.

Were Barnier to judge those talks to have made “sufficient progress” - which seems highly unlikely as it is now becoming apparent that he is determined to bog down the talks - he would then be in a position to recommend to leaders at a summit on Oct. 19-20 that they let him launch trade talks.

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Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright is publishing editor of EU Today. 

An experienced journalist and published author, he specialises in environment, energy, and defence.

He also has more than 10 years experience of working as a staff member in the EU institutions, working with political groups and MEPs in various policy areas.

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