EU asks for U.K. to detail exit plan for legal disputes
BRUSSELS — The United Kingdom and the European Union edged forward this week during their first formal break-up negotiation session, though it became clear Thursday that one of the biggest stumbling blocks will be agreeing which court will have the final say in settling legal disputes after the U.K.’s exit.
The EU’s chief exit negotiator, Michel Barnier, urged Britain to flesh out its positions on a variety of issues that need to be dealt with before discussions can begin on a wide-ranging trade deal to follow the country’s exit from the bloc.
He asked for a clear plan from Britain on how much it should pay; on the rights of citizens living in one another’s nations and how to make sure that the handling of the land border with Ireland doesn’t negatively affect business; and on the Northern Ireland peace process.
“This week’s experience has shown we make better progress when our respective positions are clear,” Barnier said, highlighting the bloc’s impatience with the British foot-dragging to start discussions after the June 2016 referendum that backed the exit.
One hurdle is how much Britain will pay to meet its obligations as part of any exit deal. Estimates have ranged from $34 billion to $116 billion. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said the EU can “go whistle” for its money if it comes with excessive demands.
“Accounts have to be settled,” Barnier countered.
Barnier said during a joint news conference that the “clarification of the U.K. position is indispensable for us to negotiate and for us to make sufficient progress on this financial dossier which is inseparable from other dossiers.”
British negotiators — 99 of whom arrived Monday — have been pushing back against EU allegations that they were ill-prepared, insisting that they needed less public paperwork because they did not have to report back to 27 nations.
David Davis, Britain’s exit minister, said that four days of talks among dozens of negotiators had provided “a lot to be positive about.”
Davis said he’s “encouraged by progress” on key issues, even though negotiators barely moved beyond exploratory issues during talks that are expected to stretch into late 2018.
One problem stood out, though. The EU wants its top court, the European Court of Justice, to be the final arbiter on many issues in the wake of the exit agreement, which Britain rejects.
The court was a key issue during the 2016 referendum campaign, with “Leave” campaigners arguing that the primary role of the European court over national courts represented a substantial loss of sovereignty.
Barnier insisted that the European Court of Justice still needs a strong role.
“Quite frankly,” he said, “any reference to European rights imply their oversight by the court of justice of the European Union.”
It leaves the negotiators with plenty of work for the rest of the summer and early fall. Since the talks have taken four months to fully kick off, negotiators will now be pressed to make up lost time on a host of complicated issues that could take years to work out.
While the official deadline is March 2019, there’s a practical deadline of late fall 2018, since any agreement would still face ratification in the EU and its nations.
Davis held out hope Britain and the EU would remain the best of allies and that any settlement would not seek an edge on an opponent.
“Nobody expects a punishment deal. Michel and I are both going for a good deal,” Davis said.