Brexit: UK holding up talks with lack of clarity, Michel Barnier says

Jon Stone

Talks on the future relationship between the EU and UK after Brexit are being held back because the UK side lacks “clarity” about what it wants, the bloc’s chief negotiator has suggested.

Discussions on the future relationship began last week after months of insistence from the UK but Michel Barnier said in a speech in Germany that final progress could only be made after more work was done by the British government.

In a speech to German business leaders in Hannover he called on the UK to “confirm” or “adapt” its red lines and said a political declaration could only be made “once we have more clarity from the UK’.

The complaint from Brussels has been a familiar refrain in talks, with EU officials repeatedly warning that the UK is unclear about what it wants on both the future relationship and how to solve the Northern Ireland issue.

“The EU's Heads of State and Government have shown their high level of ambition for the future relationship, taking account of the UK's red lines,” Mr Barnier told the audience.

“This future relationship should of course cover solidarity in terms of security and defence. The next steps will therefore not come from the EU – stakeholders, business, society all know where the EU stands.

“It is now up to the UK to come up with its vision for the future, which should confirm the UK's red lines or adapt them.

It is now up to the UK to come up with its vision for the future

Michel Barnier, EU chief negotiator

“This is true for the future relationship. It is also true for issues of the withdrawal such as Ireland and Northern Ireland, where we have done our share of the work.

“Once we have more clarity from the UK, we will prepare a political declaration on the framework for the future relationship to accompany the Withdrawal Agreement in the autumn.”

Theresa May has ruled out membership of the customs union and single market, as well as jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. The EU says these policies taken together will introduce frictions to trade and customs checks, including on the Northern Ireland border where both sides say they want no physical infrastructure or checks.

The issues of customs and Northern Ireland are intertwined because the UK says it wants to solve the border issue by coming up with a customs agreement that removes the need for one.

Downing Street however admitted last Friday that the UK had brought forward no new proposals in discussions about the customs arrangements and merely repeated the two ideas laid out last August, which the EU has publicly rubbished as non-starters.

Brussels officials familiar with talks said EU negotiators dismissed the ideas out of hand in meetings, but UK diplomats downplayed the lack of progress and said talks on the future relationship were at an early stage.

Both sides are hoping to make progress by the Brussels European Council summit in June, and the EU says the following summit in October is the last possible opportunity to sign a deal.