EU laments lack of progress amid dead­lock in Brexit talks


Brexit talks have made lit­tle progress, the Euro­pean Union’s chief ne­go­tia­tor said on Thurs­day, mean­ing they can­not yet be broad­ened beyond the terms of Bri­tain’s exit to in­clude key is­sues such as fu­ture trade re­la­tions.

Michel Barnier said that de­spite the “con­struc­tive spirit” shown in this week’s fifth round of talks, “we haven’t made any great steps for­ward.” On the ques­tion of how much Bri­tain has to pay to set­tle its fi­nan­cial com­mit­ments, he said: “We have reached a state of dead­lock, which is dis­turb­ing.”

Mr. Barnier said he would not be able to rec­om­mend to EU lead­ers meet­ing next week that “suf­fi­cient progress” has been made to broaden the talks to fu­ture EU-Bri­tish re­la­tions, in­clud­ing trade.

The lead­ers meet in Brus­sels on Oct. 19-20, and with time short to seal a deal it had been hoped they would agree to widen the talks.

The EU says this can only hap­pen when there has been progress on the is­sues of the fi­nan­cial set­tle­ment, the rights of ci­ti­zens af­fected by Brexit and the sta­tus of the North­ern Ire­land-Ire­land border.

Many busi­nesses are wor­ried that Bri­tain could leave the EU with­out a trade deal in place, which would mean tar­iffs on ex­ports from both sides, reams of red tape and chaos at ports. The pound fell Thurs­day on news of the slow progress, trad­ing 0.6 per cent lower at $1.3142 (U.S.).

Bri­tain says its exit terms are closely in­ter­twined with those on fu­ture re­la­tions like trade and must be dis­cussed to­gether.

“I hope the mem­ber states will see the progress we have made and take a step for­ward” next week, Bri­tish Brexit en­voy David Davis told re­porters.

“We would like them to give Michel the means to broaden the ne­go­ti­a­tions. It’s up to them whether they do it. Clearly I think it’s in the in­ter­ests of the United King­dom and the Euro­pean Union that they do,” Mr. Davis said.

De­spite the lack of progress, Mr. Barnier said the two would work to achieve “suf­fi­cient progress” in time for a sub­se­quent meet­ing of EU lead­ers in De­cem­ber.

Around one third of the ne­go­ti­at­ing time has al­ready elapsed. Bri­tain must leave the EU on March 29, 2019, but the talks must be com­pleted within about a year to leave time for EU states’ na­tional par­lia­ments to rat­ify the Brexit agree­ment.

Euro­pean es­ti­mates on the size of the di­vorce bill have var­ied from around €60-bil­lion to €100bil­lion ($88-bil­lion to $147-bil­lion), but Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May’s govern­ment has re­jected such num­bers with­out clearly ex­plain­ing how the amount should be cal­cu­lated.

“The U.K. re­peated that it was still not ready to spell out th­ese com­mit­ments,” Mr. Barnier said. “There have there­fore been no ne­go­ti­a­tions on this sub­ject.”

The ne­go­ti­a­tions ap­pear to be mov­ing at a snail’s pace, and each round leaves a sense of deja vu, with Mr. Barnier lament­ing the lack of move­ment, and Mr. Davis ap­peal­ing for more Euro­pean flex­i­bil­ity. Thurs­day’s news con­fer­ence, though, was bright­ened briefly by an un­ex­pected visi­tor dressed as a su­per­woman pro­mot­ing her book on why Europe needs one.

Mind­ful that the clock is tick­ing, Mr. Barnier reaf­firmed that part­ing with “no deal will be a very bad deal.”

“To be clear, on our side, we will be ready to face any even­tu­al­i­ties, and all the even­tu­al­i­ties,” he said.

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