EU’s Brexit ne­go­tia­tor sets out tough con­di­tions

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

The Euro­pean Union’s chief Brexit ne­go­tia­tor said yes­ter­day that Bri­tain must meet tough con­di­tions in di­vorce talks - and doesn’t have long to do it - be­fore the two sides can start look­ing at a fu­ture re­la­tion­ship. Show­ing frus­tra­tion with what Euro­peans con­sider Bri­tish grand­stand­ing and im­pa­tience with a dearth of clear pro­pos­als, the EU’s Michel Barnier said Bri­tain needs to make “suf­fi­cient progress” on all the ini­tial is­sues - cit­i­zens’ rights, the bill that Bri­tain must pay to the EU and the Ir­ish bor­der - be­fore talks can move to a fu­ture trade deal.

Barnier said the three ar­eas “are in­di­vis­i­ble and in­ter­twined,” mak­ing clear that progress in two of the three would be in­suf­fi­cient to ad­vance to the next stage. And he in­sisted that Bri­tain rec­og­nize it faces a bill of many tens of bil­lions of eu­ros to meet pre­vi­ous com­mit­ments it made as an EU mem­ber. Oth­er­wise, he says, there’s no point in dis­cussing any­thing else.

“It’s not an exit bill. It’s not a pun­ish­ment. It’s not re­venge - at no time has it been those things. It’s sim­ply a set­tling of ac­counts,” he said. Barnier dis­missed Bri­tish For­eign Sec­re­tary Boris John­son’s com­ment that the EU can “go whis­tle” if it will in­sist on Bri­tain pay­ing any ex­ces­sive bill. “I am not hear­ing any whistling, just the clock tick­ing,” Barnier said, with the March 2019 dead­line for Bri­tain to leave the bloc draw­ing ever closer.

Pen­sion li­a­bil­i­ties

Es­ti­mates of the amount Bri­tain that must pay to cover pen­sion li­a­bil­i­ties for EU staff and other com­mit­ments such as farm­ing sub­si­dies to hu­man­i­tar­ian aid have ranged up­ward to 100 bil­lion eu­ros ($114 bil­lion). He said ques­tion­ing such is­sues as fi­nan­cial obli­ga­tions cuts to the heart of any fu­ture re­la­tion­ship. “How do you build a re­la­tion­ship which is go­ing to last with a coun­try where you don’t have trust?” Barnier asked. Trust, he said “means set­tling ac­counts.”

Barnier said he “could not imag­ine that a very great coun­try like the UK” would not also “be a re­spon­si­ble coun­try and re­spect its com­mit­ments.” After Barnier briefed the EU Com­mis­sion on the ne­go­ti­a­tions, he spoke to re­porters, and ex­uded some im­pa­tience with the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment for let­ting valu­able time in the two-year ne­go­ti­at­ing slot go to waste.

After trig­ger­ing the two-year di­vorce ne­go­ti­a­tions in March, Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May de­cided to call an early elec­tion to strengthen her hand only to lose her Con­ser­va­tive ma­jor­ity and add to the po­lit­i­cal chaos in a coun­try deeply di­vided over Brexit. “We are ready. My team is ready,” said Barnier, adding he was even “ready to work through the 14th of July” - France’s Bastille Day hol­i­day.

The first is­sue be­ing ad­dressed by the two sides - cit­i­zens’ rights for peo­ple liv­ing in each other’s na­tions - is al­ready pos­ing se­ri­ous prob­lems.

The Euro­pean Par­lia­ment has dis­missed the pro­pos­als made by May, call­ing them in­suf­fi­cient and bur­den­some. The Euro­pean Par­lia­ment’s in­put is im­por­tant since it could veto any deal. —AP

BRUS­SELS: This is a Mon­day, May 22, 2017 file photo of EU chief Brexit ne­go­tia­tor Michel Barnier speaks dur­ing a me­dia con­fer­ence after a meet­ing of EU gen­eral af­fairs min­is­ter. —AP

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