EU asks for U.K. to de­tail exit plan for le­gal dis­putes

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - RAF CASERT AND PAN PY­LAS THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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