Barnier on Brexit talks: no 'decisive progress on any of the principle subjects'

Barnier Davis
Barnier Davis

Reuters/Francois Lenoir

  • "Sufficient progress" has not been made in Brexit negotiations, the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier has said.

  • In a joint press conference, Brexit Secretary David Davis said talks had "exposed" the EU as being less "flexible and pragmatic" than the UK.

  • Barnier said that it does not appear that negotiations will be ready for the next stage by the October deadline.

LONDON — British and EU negotiators have made no "decisive progress" on the key issues being discussed in the first stage of Brexit talks, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said on Thursday.

"We're quite far from being able to say sufficient progress has taken place," Barnier said, addressing international media in Brussels alongside the UK's Brexit Secretary David Davis in a press conference following the third round of Brexit talks. 

Barnier also accused the UK of seeking the "impossible" in its approach to leaving the single market while retaining its benefits.

"The UK wants to take back control, it wants to adopt its own standards and regulations, but it also wants these standards recognised automatically in the EU. That is what UK papers ask for. This is simply impossible," he said.

He added that the single market "must not and will not be undermined by Brexit."

Davis Frustrated

Davis claimed this week's discussions had "exposed" the EU as being less "flexible and pragmatic" than Britain.

The Brexit secretary also said that this week's talks had resulted in "some concrete progress" although "there remains some way to go."

Negotiations between Britain and the EU resumed this week however the two sides are yet to reach an agreement on the issues of citizens' rights, the Northern Irish border, and Britain's financial obligations, or the "Brexit bill" as it's more commonly known.

Talks on future UK-EU relations, including trade, were originally scheduled to commence next month. However, that now looks unlikely with the two sides struggling to find common ground on key issues.

The negotiators need to have made "sufficient progress" on the key issues in order to be given a mandate by the European Council to move talks onto the future relationship.

On the Brexit bill, Barnier said: "It is clear that the UK does not feel legally obliged to these donations after departure. With such uncertainty how can we build trust and start discussing a future relationship."

The EU is keen to confirm how much money Britain will hand over as part of its departure however the UK government has so far been reluctant to discuss specific figures. The British side this week "flabbergasted" EU negotiators by challenging the legal basis of the amount they had requested, according to reports.

"We have a very different legal stance [on the divorce bill]" Davis told journalists, adding: "we have a duty to our taxpayers to interrogate it rigorously."

On Wednesday, the UK's negotiating team spent three hours picking apart the EU's position on the financial obligations, laying out their arguments on the issue of the divorce bill with a 23-slide presentation and 11-page document.

"Time is flying. It's passing very quickly." 

Barnier went on to describe talks with Britain as very difficult. He said: "I never thought that this negotiation would be easy, I have always said from day one that this would be complex and that Brexit will have many consequences."

"Time is flying. It's passing very quickly. If we need to, we on our side are prepared on behalf of the EU institutions to step up and intensify the rhythm of those negotiations," he added. 

Speaking about the disagreement over the financial settlement, Barnier said: "With such uncertainty how can we build trust and start discussing a future relationship."

Davis said: "Discussions this week have exposed that the UK's approach is substantially more flexible and pragmatic than that of the EU as it avoids unnecessary disruption for businesses and consumers."

He added talks had been "high stress" but said both sides aim to be "more constructive" as talks continue. 

"Let's continue to work together constructively to put people before process," Davis urged Barnier. 

The Brexit secretary said that the negotiating teams had "succeeded in building mutual understanding," but "there are still significant differences to be bridged."

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