EU hands Britain a two-month dead­line on Brexit talks

● Pres­sure mounts for de­ci­sion on exit bill, North­ern Ire­land and cit­i­zens’ rights

The Scotsman - - Front Page - By PARIS GOURT­SOY­AN­NIS in Brus­sels

Bri­tish and EU ne­go­tia­tors are in a race against time to reach agree­ment on con­tentious Brexit is­sues in­clud­ing a multi-bil­lion pound fi­nan­cial set­tle­ment, EU cit­i­zens’ rights and the North­ern Ir­ish bor­der by Oc­to­ber in or­der to leave time for vi­tal trade talks.

As the first sub­stan­tive ne­go­ti­a­tions in Brus­sels got un­der way yes­ter­day, EU sources warned that the win­dow for progress to be made was as lit­tle as two months to find com­pro­mises on cru­cial is­sues be­fore the fu­ture eco­nomic re­la­tion­ship with the UK is dis­cussed.

The UK govern­ment ac­cepted EU de­mands that agree­ment is reached on three pri­or­i­ties of rights, money and North­ern Ire­land be­fore any dis­cus­sions are held on a cru­cial deal cover­ing more than £550 bil­lion worth of trade be­tween the UK and EU.

Euro­pean lead­ers have ear­marked a Euro­pean sum­mit on 20 Oc­to­ber for the lead­ers of 27 mem­ber states to re­view progress and de­cide whether ne­go­ti­a­tions can move to the next stage.

Rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the fi­nal Brexit deal by par­lia­ments in 27 coun­tries is ex­pected to start in Oc­to­ber 2018, leav­ing just a year to agree the out­line of a trade deal and tran­si­tional ar­range­ments to stop UK busi­nesses fall­ing off a Brexit “cliff edge”.

Week-long rounds of talks will be held in Brus­sels ev­ery four weeks un­til a fi­nal dead­line un­der the for­mal Ar­ti­cle 50 exit process on 29 March 2019.

Ad­di­tional ne­go­ti­a­tion ses­sions could be slot­ted in be­tween now and Oc­to­ber if more work is needed to close the gap be­tween the two sides, The Scots­man un­der­stands.

There was a new sense of ur­gency from the UK Brexit Sec­re­tary David Davis as he made a fly­ing visit to Brus­sels to meet his op­po­site num­ber Michel Barnier and get talks un­der way.

“For us it is in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant that we now make good progress, that we ne­go­ti­ate through this and iden­tify the dif­fer­ences so that we can deal with them, and iden­tify the sim­i­lar­i­ties so we can re­in­force them,” he said at the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion head­quar­ters. It’s time to get down to work and make this a suc­cess­ful ne­go­ti­a­tion.”

Mr Barnier said that talks would “now delve into the heart of the mat­ter”, af­ter a one-day ini­tial ses­sion

in June. “We need to ex­am­ine and com­pare our re­spec­tive po­si­tions in or­der to make good progress.”

The two men met one-onone for 15 min­utes be­fore be­ing joined by lead ne­go­tia­tors for al­most an hour to plan the week ahead. Mr Davis then re­turned to Lon­don ahead of a knife-edge vote in the House of Com­mons.

Ne­go­ti­a­tions will be car­ried out by a 98-strong UK ne­go­ti­a­tion team, which out­num­bers the EU’S Brexit task force of 45 by more than two to one.

Dis­cus­sions are tak­ing place in work­ing groups cover­ing fi­nance, cit­i­zens’ rights, and sep­a­ra­tion is­sues, while sen­si­tive dis­cus­sions start­ing to­day on North­ern Ire­land will be han­dled per­son­ally by Olly Rob­bins, the per­ma­nent sec­re­tary at the De­part­ment for Ex­it­ing the EU, and Sabine Weyand, the deputy chief EU ne­go­tia­tor.

A press con­fer­ence is ex­pected at the close of the cur­rent ne­go­ti­a­tion round on Thurs­day, al­though the UK of­fi­cials in­di­cated that was de­pen­dent on the amount of progress that is made.

De­spite calls from Mr Barnier for the UK to make clear its po­si­tion on pay­ments to the EU, talks on a Brexit fi­nan­cial set­tle­ment be­gan without a de­tailed UK pa­per on the is­sue.

Un­of­fi­cial claims from the EU side of a bill be­tween £60£100 bil­lion have been dis­missed by the UK govern­ment. Last week Boris John­son said the EU could “go whis­tle” for what he called an “ex­or­bi­tant” sum. EU of­fi­cials are re­ported to be un­der pres­sure not to dis­cuss a firm fig­ure un­til an ac­cepted for­mula is agreed. UK ne­go­tia­tors are ex­pected to spend this week go­ing through the EU’S fi­nan­cial set­tle­ment po­si­tion pa­per to query its method­ol­ogy line-by-line.

The doc­u­ment lists 65 EU agen­cies and pro­grammes where the UK has out­stand­ing fund­ing com­mit­ments un­der Euro­pean law.

On cit­i­zens’ rights, ne­go­tia­tors must find a way to bridge a red line for both sides over the le­gal pro­tec­tions for EU na­tion­als af­ter Brexit. The UK govern­ment in­sists that the Courts of Jus­tice of the EU can no longer have any ju­ris­dic­tion in the UK af­ter Brexit, bar­ring for a time-lim­ited tran­si­tion pe­riod, while the EU says it is the only body that can de­fend those rights.

Yes­ter­day the Scot­tish Govern­ment called for clar­ity over the UK’S pro­pos­als on EU na­tion­als liv­ing in the UK.

Min­is­ters have pub­lished a re­sponse to the UK govern­ment’s plan, with Scot­tish Govern­ment Brexit min­is­ter Michael Rus­sell say­ing a num­ber of “es­sen­tial is­sues” re­main un­cer­tain.

UK min­is­ters have pro­posed that EU na­tion­als res­i­dent in the UK will be able to ap­ply for “set­tled sta­tus”, ef­fec­tively guar­an­tee­ing them in­def­i­nite leave to re­main in the coun­try once Britain is out of the EU.

Any EU cit­i­zen who has been liv­ing in the UK con­tin­u­ously for five years will be el­i­gi­ble, while those who have been res­i­dent for less than five years will be also be al­lowed to stay to build up to five years.

Min­is­ters have yet to con­firm the cut-off date for qual­i­fi­ca­tion.

Th­escot­tish­gov­ern­ment said there are a num­ber of im­por­tant ques­tions over “set­tled sta­tus”, in­clud­ing who will qual­ify, what rights they will be en­ti­tled to, the rules for fam­ily mem­bers and the costs of ap­ply­ing.

Mr Rus­sell said: “As ne­go­ti­a­tions get un­der way again to­day in Brus­sels, it is im­por­tant that this is­sue be con­cluded as soon as pos­si­ble.

“Were Scot­land part of the ne­go­ti­at­ing team, as we have sug­gested, we would be do­ing our best to help the UK re­solve the mat­ter and any thoughts we of­fer are given in that spirit.

“It is of course dis­ap­point­ing that it has taken the UK govern­ment a year to set out their plans but with good will on both sides the is­sues could be set­tled in the next few days.

“This is­sue is also of course about pro­tect­ing the ex­ist­ing rights of Scots and other UK cit­i­zens liv­ing in other EU coun­tries.”

0 Brexit Min­is­ter David Davis, left, with Michel Barnier

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