EU’s man Barnier tells the UK to settle bill or risk hard Brexit - but Tories aren’t listening LABOUR ANGER AS PROSPECT OF NO DEAL LOOMS LARGER
A HARD Brexit suddenly became a realistic prospect yesterday when the EU’s chief negotiator said talks were in a “disturbing state of deadlock” over Britain’s divorce bill.
The pound dropped in value as Michel Barnier said he could not tell leaders of the other 27 EU countries that “sufficient progress” had been made to allow discussions over future trade relations to begin.
Theresa May’s hopes of an early start to trade talks with the EU suffered a serious setback, with December now being seen as the moment when Britain could break off talks and go for a hard Brexit.
Labour warned that would be “catastrophic for jobs and living standards”.
Barnier will tell the EU27 leaders at a summit in Brussels next week that negotiations about post-Brexit trade deals are out of the question.
It makes it all but certain that the talks will be delayed until at least the end of the year and will increase pressure on the Prime Minister to make preparations for a possible “no-deal” Brexit.
Speaking alongside UK Brexit Secretary David Davis at the conclusion of the fifth round of formal talks in Brussels, Barnier said no “great steps forward” had been made this week.
He described a “disturbing” deadlock over how much the UK should pay to settle commitments entered into as an EU member.
The main stumbling block continues to be the UK’s refusal to accept the EU’s analysis of what it will owe on leaving in March 2019.
Estimates on the size of the divorce bill have varied from £54billion to £90billion.
Barnier revealed the size of the UK’s Brexit bill had not even been discussed during this week’s talks, after Britain refused to put a figure on the amount it is prepared to pay. He said: “I am not able in the current circumstances to propose next week to the European Council that we should start discussions on the future relationship.” The pound immediately fell 0.6 per cent against the dollar to 1.31 on the news. It also dropped 0.6 per cent to 1.10 euros. Barnier held out the prospect of “decisive” progress by the time of a European Council summit scheduled for December 14-15. But he insisted the EU would not make “concessions” on their priorities of the rights of EU citizens, the status of the Irish border and the divorce bill.
Davis called for Barnier’s negotiating mandate to be changed at next week’s summit in order to allow explorations of the issues around trade.
The Brexit Secretary said: “I hope the leaders of the 27 will provide Michel with the means to explore ways forward with us on that and build on the spirit of co-operation we now have.”
But Barnier replied: “To make a success of the negotiations we have got to do things in the right order. That is a condition of success. If we mix everything up, there are risks.”
He told reporters: “There is no
question of making concessions on citizens’ rights. There is no question of making concessions on the peace process in Northern Ireland.
“As regards the financial settlement, there is no question of making concessions on thousands of investment projects throughout Europe.”
Barnier said the EU were ready to face “any eventualities” but warned against a failure to secure an agreement. “No deal will be a very bad deal,” he said.
Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer accused the Tories of wasting months of the Brexit talks fighting among themselves.
He said: “This increases the chances that Britain will crash out of the EU without a deal.
“That would be catastrophic for jobs and living standards and must be rejected as a viable option.
“The Government must must drop their ideological red lines and work round the clock to find a resolution.”
SNP MP Stephen Gethins hit out at “the utter irresponsibility and lack of preparedness on display from the UK Government”.
He added: “It is as if they have not been in the same room, let alone on the same page as the EU officials.
“Brexit poses a real and present danger to opportunities for young people in the UK and across the EU.
“As politicians we have a responsibility to give young people at least the same opportunities as we have.
“This is being jeopardised by a UK Government who have failed to do their homework.”
DITHERING May has shown no leadership
POLES APART Davis wants trade talks but Barnier says there’s no chance without progress