EU fears delay in start of Brexit trade talks
Progress is difficult because Britain has no position on many issues, officials say
Brussels — Talks between Britain and the EU on their future relationship are now less likely to start in October, the EU’s top negotiator says, because of lack of progress on Brexit divorce issues so far.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s top Brexit negotiator, on Wednesday briefed ambassadors from the 27 countries that will remain in the EU after Britain leaves in March 2019 on the outcome of the July round of the monthly divorce talks with London.
Barnier said the likelihood of starting the future relationship talks in October appeared to be decreasing, said an EU official involved in the Brexit talks.
The EU’s negotiator had hoped that sufficient progress on key issues — a financial settlement, citizens’ rights and a solution for a nonphysical border between Northern Ireland and Ireland — could be made by October.
This would allow EU leaders to give their consent to starting talks with London on the main aspects of the relationship after Brexit — a discussion Britain says it is keen to start as soon as possible to provide more clarity to businesses.
But with no progress on the financial settlement except Britain’s general concession that it would owe the EU an unspecified amount and little to no real progress on other issues, the odds of a future trade relationship discussion starting in two months are declining.
EU officials said progress was difficult not because Britain had unacceptable demands but because it had no position at all on many issues.
"Barnier expressed concerns that sufficient progress in October looked difficult now. Mainly because Britain has no position on finances, but also because they don’t have positions on other issues as well," a second EU official said. "The more they drag on, the less time is left for a second phase and the special relationship they want."
The EU’s estimate is that Britain may owe it €60bn after it leaves as a result of various legal commitments London has made as a member of the bloc. But talks are to focus on the methodology of the calculation rather than the sum itself.
"There has still been no kick-off on money. Britain still refuses to accept anything — either the methodology or the sum," an EU official said.
An EU diplomat said: "This blocks everything else. There won’t be any real progress over the next two months and clearly that won’t create grounds for opening phase two on trade. On citizens’ acquired rights, it’s a mixed picture.
"We have a list of things we agree on, disagree on and are some way in between. But that at least allows us to negotiate."
Diplomats said that talks on Ireland had not moved beyond restating the positions that had already been presented in public. "They have actually not discussed the Irish border in any detail; there were no technical talks at all," an official said.
The next round of Brexit talks is scheduled for late August.