Dead­lock over Brexit di­vorce bill ru­ins PM’s early trade talks hope

Western Mail - - FRONT PAGE - An­drew Wood­cock, Sam Lis­ter and Gavin Cor­don news­desk@waleson­line.co.uk

THERESA May’s hopes of an early start to trade talks with the EU have suf­fered a se­ri­ous set­back, after Brus­sels’ chief ne­go­tia­tor said more time was needed to thrash out a Brexit di­vorce deal first.

Michel Barnier an­nounced that he will tell lead­ers of the re­main­ing 27 EU na­tions at a Brus­sels sum­mit next week that in­suf­fi­cient progress has been made in di­vorce talks to be able to move on to ne­go­ti­a­tions on the bloc’s post-Brexit re­la­tion­ship with Bri­tain.

His rec­om­men­da­tion makes it all but cer­tain that trade talks will be de­layed at least un­til the end of the year, and will heighten pres­sure on the UK Gov­ern­ment to make prepa­ra­tions for a pos­si­ble “no-deal” Brexit.

Speak­ing along­side Brexit Sec­re­tary David Davis at the con­clu­sion of the fifth round of for­mal talks in the Bel­gian cap­i­tal, Mr Barnier said no “great steps for­ward” had been made this week and there re­mained a “dis­turb­ing” dead­lock over how much the UK should pay to set­tle com­mit­ments en­tered into as an EU mem­ber.

He re­vealed that the size of the UK’s Brexit bill had not even been dis­cussed dur­ing this week’s ne­go­ti­a­tions, after Bri­tain re­fused to put a fig­ure on the amount it was pre­pared to pay.

BORIS John­son has said it is time to “put a tiger in the tank” of Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions, after Brus­sels’ chief ne­go­tia­tor quashed hopes of trade talks be­gin­ning next week.

In a sig­nif­i­cant set­back for Theresa May, Michel Barnier said a “dis­turb­ing” dead­lock over the size of Bri­tain’s exit bill means he can­not rec­om­mend mov­ing on from di­vorce talks to dis­cus­sions about fu­ture trade re­la­tions when lead­ers of the 27 re­main­ing EU states meet in Brus­sels on Oc­to­ber 19.

Brexit Sec­re­tary David Davis made clear that the UK will press the other EU lead­ers to broaden Mr Barnier’s remit, al­low­ing him to be­gin ex­plor­ing the na­ture of a tran­si­tion to the fu­ture UK/EU re­la­tion­ship be­fore fi­nal­is­ing de­tails of the with­drawal agree­ment.

And the For­eign Sec­re­tary said it was time for the EU to show greater ur­gency in the process which is due to lead to Bri­tain’s de­par­ture from the bloc in March 2019.

Mr John­son told a Lon­don press con­fer­ence that Bri­tain wanted to “get on with it to the next phase”, adding: “We are look­ing for some ur­gency from our friends and part­ners and it’s time, I think, to put a bit of a tiger in the tank and get this thing done.”

Mr Barnier said no great steps for­ward had been made in four days of di­vorce ne­go­ti­a­tions this week.

At a press con­fer­ence with Mr Davis in Brus­sels, he re­vealed that the size of the UK’s Brexit bill had not even been the sub­ject of ne­go­ti­a­tions, after Bri­tain re­fused to put a fig­ure on the amount it was pre­pared to pay.

“On this is­sue, we have reached a state of dead­lock which is very dis­turb­ing for thou­sands of project pro­mot­ers in Europe and it’s dis­turb­ing also for tax­pay­ers,” said Mr Barnier.

And he added: “On this ba­sis 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.”

His rec­om­men­da­tion makes it all but cer­tain that trade talks will be de­layed at least un­til the end of the year, and will heighten pres­sure on the UK Gov­ern­ment to make prepa­ra­tions for a pos­si­ble “no-deal” Brexit.

The pound tum­bled on the news, slump­ing 0.6% against the dol­lar to 1.31. Ster­ling also dropped 0.6% against the euro to 1.10 euro.

But Mr Davis urged EU lead­ers to change Mr Barnier’s ne­go­ti­at­ing man­date at next week’s sum­mit to al­low both sides to “talk about the fu­ture”.

“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,” said the Brexit Sec­re­tary.

A Down­ing Street spokesman said: “We’ve been clear that we want to move on to dis­cus­sions on the im­ple­men­ta­tion pe­riod and our fu­ture re­la­tion­ship. We hope the EU27 now give Michel Barnier the means to open up dis­cus­sions to al­low the mo­men­tum we’ve es­tab­lished to con­tinue.”

Mr Barnier held out the prospect of “de­ci­sive” progress in the Brexit talks by the time of the Euro­pean Coun­cil sum­mit sched­uled for De­cem­ber 14-15.

But he in­sisted the EU would not make “con­ces­sions” on its key pri­or­i­ties of the rights of EU cit­i­zens liv­ing in the UK post-Brexit, the sta­tus of the Ir­ish bor­der and the UK’s “di­vorce bill”.

And he in­sisted he did not want to aban­don his plan of wait­ing un­til “suf­fi­cient progress” is made on di­vorce is­sues be­fore mov­ing on to the fu­ture trade re­la­tion­ship.

“To make a suc­cess of the ne­go­ti­a­tions we have got to do things in the right or­der,” said Mr Barnier. “That is a con­di­tion of suc­cess. If we mix ev­ery­thing up, there are risks.”

Speak­ing dur­ing a visit to the north west, Mrs May said: “There has ac­tu­ally been good progress made in these talks and Michel Barnier him­self has recog­nised that over the com­ing weeks we will be able to make con­struc­tive progress as well.”

Labour said the dead­lock “in­creases the chances that Bri­tain will crash out of the EU with­out a deal”.

In a let­ter to Mr Davis, shadow Brexit sec­re­tary Sir Keir Starmer called on him to seek an ad­di­tional round of emer­gency talks to try for progress be­fore next week’s sum­mit.

“The Gov­ern­ment must recog­nise the grav­ity of the sit­u­a­tion,” said Sir Keir. “They must drop their ide­o­log­i­cal red lines and work round the clock to find a res­o­lu­tion to the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion.”

CBI di­rec­tor gen­eral Carolyn Fair­bairn said talk of dead­lock was deeply con­cern­ing for UK busi­nesses.

Re­spond­ing to Sir Keir’s de­mand for ad­di­tional emer­gency talks, Mr Davis said the key to progress was not a ques­tion of time or ef­fort but open­ing up the dis­cus­sion to look at the fu­ture.

“I hope you will join me in im­press­ing on the EU27, when they meet at the Oc­to­ber Euro­pean Coun­cil next week, the im­por­tance of al­low­ing Mr Barnier the abil­ity to make progress,” said Mr Davis in a let­ter to his Labour shadow.

“If you are pre­pared to spell out ex­actly how much tax­pay­ers’ money you think we should of­fer the Euro­pean Union in or­der to progress talks, or set out what role you see for the Euro­pean Court of Jus­tice after we leave the Euro­pean Union, I would be happy to en­gage on your points in de­tail.”

> EU chief Brexit ne­go­tia­tor Michel Barnier makes his point dur­ing a me­dia con­fer­ence with Brexit Sec­re­tary David Davis, right, at EU head­quar­ters in Brus­sels yes­ter­day

> Boris John­son yes­ter­day

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