By ESZTER ZALAN
The UK has two weeks to clarify how much it is willing to pay as part of the financial settlement with the EU after Brexit, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said on Friday (10 November).
Barnier answered the question with a simple “Oui” (yes), when asked if the EU needs the UK to spell out its financial plans in the next two weeks for talks to move onto the second phase of negotiations.
EU leaders will decide in December if Brexit talks have yielded “sufficient progress” on the key issues of the divorce bill, citizens’ rights and the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Ambassadors from the EU-27 this week discussed internal deadlines in preparing for the December summit, and will take stock of the progress of Brexit talks on 20 November.
Barnier was speaking in Brussels along with UK Brexit secretary David Davis after the sixth round of talks, which brought no results or breakthroughs.
On citizens’ rights Barnier commended the UK’s plans on registering EU citizens after Brexit, and said it was a “useful clarification, and good basis for further work”.
But the EU chief negotiator said family reunification, the right to export social benefits, and the role of the European Court of Justice in guaranteeing these rights are still outstanding issues.
Davis said the UK courts would be able to take into account the ECJ rulings, but he ruled out any further role for the EU’s top court. “A key priority remains to preserve the sovereignty of our courts,” he said.
On Ireland, Davis emphasised that any solution to avoid a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland should not result in new borders.
“This cannot amount to creating a new border inside our United Kingdom,” Davis said.
Earlier on Friday the Financial Times reported that the EU is calling for Britain accept that Northern Ireland may need to remain inside the bloc’s customs union and single market to avoid a hard border. That would create a maritime customs ‘border’ in the Irish Sea between the island of Ireland and mainland Britain.
No new negotiating rounds were agreed, as concerns mount over a possible further delay in talks and a risk of no deal if talks don’t progress in December.
The UK was hoping that British prime minister Theresa May’s speech in Florence – where she has committed that the UK will pay financial obligations it has made as an EU member, without going into details – would be enough to unlock negotiations at the previous EU leaders’ October summit.
But the EU-27 first want to see that commitment put into a negotiating position in detailed form. The UK would first want to see what sort of a relationship it will have with the EU before making commitments on payment.
Davis once again reiterated the UK’s desire to move quickly onto the next phase.
“We must now look ahead to moving our discussions onto our future relationship,” he told reporters.
“But we need to see flexibility, imagination and willingness to make progress on both sides if these negotiations are to succeed,” he added.
Barnier said however that talks need to make “sincere and real” progress to move further.
The French politician refuted suggestions that hardline French and German positions are stalling negotiations. “The French and German positions are important, but I listen to all 27 member states and the European Parliament,” he said.
Concerns are growing over the fate of the Brexit talks as December is approaching with the risk of a ‘no deal’ scenario increasing.
Poland’s EU affairs minister Konrad Szymanski earlier on Friday told reporters that negotiations being under time pressure is a problem, but is also an opportunity for both sides.
“Of course, everything is possible, if you really need you’ll find a way how to do it. But the time pressure is more and more uncomfortable,” Szymanski said, adding that if talks do no proceed in December, it could be problematic to find another date because of internal procedural aspects on both sides.
EU leaders will next meet in March 2018, after the December summit.
“The logic of negotiations in these kind of situations is quite the opposite, with both sides wanting to use the leverage of time. That’s why it will be very hot at the very end, and probably we will end up with a satisfactory deal at the very last minute. It could be March, it would be better if it would be December,” Szymanski added.