The latest round of Brexit negotiations have brought some clarity but no great progress, the European Union’s chief negotiator said in a media briefing on Thursday (October 12).
Michel Barnier said there was still “deadlock” over the financial settlement, which he described as “very disturbing.” He added that he was not ready to recommend to EU governments at a summit next week that talks move on to the next phase. He singled out differences over the bill the UK is expected to pay in separating from the EU, which he said jeopardised thousands of projects around Europe.
However, he said he was hopeful that “decisive progress” could be made by Christmas.
“Theresa May’s speech in Florence gave momentum to this negotiation, which needed it. This week, we’ve worked in a constructive spirit, we’ve clarified certain points, for all that we haven’t made any great steps forward,” the Commission’s chief negotiator said.
The EU has always said “sufficient progress” is necessary on priority issues – the separation bill, citizens’ rights and the Northern Ireland border – before talks can move on to trade.
Barnier’s comments came as he addressed the media in Brussels alongside the UK’s chief negotiator David Davis.
The UK Brexit Minister said that while there was still a lot of work to do, they had come a long way. He appealed directly to EU government leaders to move talks on to trade, stressing progress he said had been made on key issues.
“On citizens rights, we made further progress to get British citizens in the EU and EU27 citizens in the UK the greatest possible legal certainty about the future. Our legal orders will, in the future, be distinct and different, so this week we explored ways of making sure the rights we agree now will be enforced in a fair and equivalent way,” Davis said.
Watch David Davis closing the fifth round of negotiations to forge a new partnership with the EU pic.twitter.com/z22PrSXNei— Exiting the EU Dept (@DExEUgov) October 12, 2017
Both sides went into the fifth round of talks arguing that the ball was in the other side’s court, with Barnier insisting that “Brexit is not a game.”
The UK is keen to move negotiations on to the country’s future trade relations with the EU. London is said to have dug in on the question of the so-called “Brexit bill” – refusing to give ground unless Brussels shows more flexibility on the sequencing of talks.
EU officials have highlighted a lack of progress and clarity from the British side. Stumbling blocks are said to include the future role of European courts over the question of citizens’ rights. On Tuesday the British Prime Minister Theresa May told Parliament that negotiators were very close to agreeing a deal on the issue.
The UK prime minister’s speech in Florence last month – setting out proposals for a two-year transition period after Britain leaves the EU in 2019 – was hailed in Brussels as constructive. However, this week’s more pessimistic tone was illustrated by European Council President Donald Tusk, who warned of the consequences of the “slow pace” of talks.
The differences have reignited a debate in the UK about a potential “no deal scenario”. Pro-Brexit voices have argued that Britain should be more optimistic about its prospects if no agreement is reached with the EU, and that London should show it is prepared to walk out of talks.
The issue has brought reports of renewed rifts in the British Cabinet, this time over how the UK should prepare, should no agreement be reached. The prime minister told Parliament the government had set aside 250 million pounds for Brexit contingency planning. Earlier the Finance Minister Philip Hammond – who has long highlighted potentially grave consequences for business and consumers of crashing out of the EU – said extra spending should be left until the “very last moment”.
EU government leaders are expected to decide on the next steps in the Brexit process at a European Council meeting on October 19 and 20.
Watch the press conference in full here:
with Alice Cuddy