Theresa May’s ambition to kick-start talks on a future UK-EU trade deal has been dashed after the Prime Minister of Slovenia warned the first phase of negotiations will take longer than planned.
Under the agreed timetable for the Brexit negotiations, “sufficient progress” must be be made on the withdrawal issues, including the paramount issues of a financial settlement and citizens’ rights, before talks on a future relationship and trade deal can begin.
Both sides hope that Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator, will be ready to make that recommendation to October’s European Council summit of EU leaders, who will have to green light the opening of trade talks.
But the Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar suggested the issues in the first phase of the talks – a financial settlement, citizens’ rights, and the Irish border – were too complex to solve, or make sufficient progress on, in time to allow trade talks to begin in two months’ time as previously anticipated.
Mr Cerar, who will be one of the 27 EU leaders at October's summit, told The Guardian: “I think that the process will definitely take more time than we expected at the start of the negotiations.
”There are so many difficult topics on the table, difficult issues there, that one cannot expect all those issues will be solved according to the schedule made in the first place.”
The Slovenian Prime Minister added: “I think that the process will definitely take more time than we expected at the start of the negotiations. There are so many difficult topics on the table, difficult issues there, that one cannot expect all those issues will be solved according to the schedule made in the first place.”
His comments come as David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, prepares to publish five more position papers on the negotiations this week, including a key paper on the contentious issue of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
Writing in the Sunday Times, Mr Davis said he firmly believed the early round of the negotiations “have demonstrated that many questions around our withdrawal are inextricably linked to our future relationship” and that both sides need to move swiftly onto the next round of the negotiations
“With the clock ticking, it wouldn’t be in either of our interest to run aspects of the negotiations twice,” the Brexit Secretary added in a statement.
Last week Ms May admitted there is still “a lot to be done” in the arduous negotiations with Brussels in the coming months but failed to quash reports of a potential delay to the next phase of the talks. It has been suggested that the German election, scheduled for September, could put the Brexit talks on stand-by for two months.
“There’s a lot to be done, as a Government we’ve shown the work we are putting into this,” the Prime Minister added. “We’ve published recently just in the last few days a number of papers that set out our thinking on some of those key issues for the future relationship.”
But following the release of the customs union position paper last week – detailing Britain’s plan for “frictionless as possible” trade after Brexit – the European Parliament’s chief Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, described the blueprint as a “fantasy”.
Mr Verhofstadt told The Independent last month that while the European Council and Mr Barnier, will ultimately decide when to kick-start the trade talks with Britain, MEPs will also provide an assessment to Mr Barnier through a resolution on whether “sufficient progress” has been made in Brussels.