EU, UK trade blames over dead­locked Brexit bill

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - International -

BRI­TAIN and the EU are stuck in a “dis­turb­ing” dead­lock over the Brexit di­vorce bill, although a break­through re­mains pos­si­ble in the next two months, EU ne­go­tia­tor Michel Barnier said yes­ter­day. The stale­mate will stoke fears swirling in Lon­don and Brus­sels of a break­down in talks that could see Bri­tain leav­ing the Euro­pean Union in March 2019 with­out an agree­ment to soften the blow.

Wrap­ping up a fifth round of talks with Bri­tain’s David Davis, Barnier said he could not rec­om­mend to EU lead­ers at a sum­mit next week that ne­go­ti­a­tions move on from di­vorce is­sues to talks on a post-Brexit trade deal.

The French­man re­served his most cut­ting com­ments for the is­sue of fi­nan­cial com­mit­ments, say­ing Bri­tain had still not spelled out what Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May promised in a key speech in Florence, Italy, last month.

“We are at a dead­lock on this ques­tion which is ex­tremely dis­turb­ing,” Barnier told a press con­fer­ence with Davis at the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion head­quar­ters in Brus­sels.

Speak­ing a mix of French and English, Barnier said the “con­struc­tive” talks had clar­i­fied some points but that there had not been any “great steps for­ward” on cen­tral is­sues.

The lead­ers of the other EU 27 coun­tries have de­manded there be “suf­fi­cient progress” on the Brexit bill, the rights of EU cit­i­zens liv­ing in Bri­tain, and on North­ern Ire­land be­fore mov­ing on to dis­cuss a post-Brexit trade deal.

Barnier said on the bill in par­tic­u­lar there had been no ac­tual ne­go­ti­a­tions with Davis, only nar­row tech­ni­cal talks on the de­tails.

“I am not cur­rently able to rec­om­mend to next week’s Euro­pean Coun­cil to open dis­cus­sions on the fu­ture re­la­tion­ship,” Barnier said. But he added: “I re­main con­vinced that with po­lit­i­cal will, de­ci­sive break­throughs are within reach in the com­ing two months.”

The EU ne­go­tia­tor also warned against the pos­si­bil­ity of a so-called “Hard Brexit” after May ad­mit­ted this week that her gov­ern­ment was set­ting aside money for a “no-deal sce­nario”. “A no deal will be a very bad deal,” Barnier said.

Davis, a key fig­ure in the Leave cam­paign in last year’s Brexit ref­er­en­dum, said he still hoped EU lead­ers could de­cide to shift to the next phase when they meet next week.

“I hope the mem­ber states will rec­og­nize the progress we’ve made and take a step for­ward in the spirit of the prime min­is­ter’s Florence speech,” Davis said, adding that it was “in the in­ter­ests of Europe and the UK.”

Davis called on EU lead­ers to give Barnier a man­date next week to “ex­plore ways for­ward” on May’s pro­posal for a two-year tran­si­tion pe­riod after Brexit, even if trade talks are not opened.

The pos­si­bil­ity of Bri­tain leav­ing with­out a deal has sud­denly be­come a re­al­ity in re­cent days, as the fail­ure of ne­go­tia­tors to reach a break­through has rat­tled nerves and mar­kets.

EU Pres­i­dent Don­ald Tusk warned on Tues­day that the bloc may re­think whether a Brexit deal is pos­si­ble if there is no progress by the end of the year.

Tusk also ruled out the pos­si­bil­ity of mov­ing onto the trade talks phase at the Oc­to­ber 19 sum­mit, though he said he hoped to be able to by the next sum­mit in De­cem­ber.

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