EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier warns Theresa May: The clock is ticking

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator has warned the UK government that the ‘clock is ticking’ on reaching a trade agreement.

Michel Barnier also dismissed foreign secretary Boris Johnson’s claim that Brussels could ‘go whistle’ if it expected Britain to pay a large amount of money as part of the withdrawal agreement.

When asked about Mr Johnson’s controversial comment, made in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Mr Barnier said: ‘I’m not hearing any whistling, just the clock ticking.’

He told a press conference in Brussels that Britain must offer more clarity on its position on the ‘divorce bill’ financial settlement with the European Union – as well as the status of ex-pat citizens and the nature of the future border with the Republic of Ireland – if it is to make progress towards a deal on trade arrangements after Brexit.

Michel Barnier met his opposite number David Davis last month (Picture: Rex)
Michel Barnier met his opposite number David Davis last month (Picture: Rex)

His comments came as credit ratings agency Moody’s warned that the UK’s creditworthiness was ‘under pressure’ because of uncertainty over the result of Brexit negotiations.

It said Britain would face ‘materially weaker’ growth if it failed to secure a good deal on trade.

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Speaking after briefing European Commissioners, Mr Barnier said the first round of negotiations with Brexit secretary David Davis last month had been useful.

However, he warned: ‘The hard work starts now.’

Meanwhile, back in London, the first secretary of state, Damian Green, told Prime Minister’s Questions that the Office for Budget Responsibility will publish its report into covering the risks of Brexit on Thursday.

With the second round of talks opening on Monday, Mr Barnier said the UK needs to engage substantially on issues of citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and borders.

‘The EU positions are clear,’ he said. ‘We now need to know the UK’s position on each of these issues in order to make progress. We need to know on which points we agree and which points we disagree so that we can negotiate in earnest.

‘My aim is to make good progress next week and at our next session in August on all issues. We cannot remain idle as the clock is ticking.’

The UK must accept that it has financial obligations relating to previous commitments to pay into EU budgets, Mr Barnier said.

Mr Barnier is frustrated by a lack of urgency from the UK government (Picture: Rex)
Mr Barnier is frustrated by what he sees as a lack of urgency from the UK government (Picture: Rex)

No figure has yet been put on the payment, but European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker suggested it could come in at around 60 billion euro (£53 billion), while unconfirmed reports have put it as high as 100 billion euro (£89 billion).

‘On the financial settlement, it is essential that the UK recognises the existence of financial obligations, which are simply the result of the period during which they were members of the EU, in particular in the current multi-annual financial framework,’ said Mr Barnier.

‘Then we will be able to work on the methodology and agreeing the first phase of the negotiations.’

Mr Barnier said the offer made by prime minister Theresa May on EU citizens living in the UK after Brexit ‘doesn’t enable those persons concerned to continue to live their lives as they do today’.

Mrs May’s package would not deliver reciprocal rights to those enjoyed by British expats in the other 27 EU nations on issues including the ability to keep families together, he said.

And he said Britain’s refusal to accept the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice ‘creates uncertainty’.

He added: ‘On subjects of such importance, it is essential to make sure that we and our partners are on the same political line before we seek technical solutions.’

Mr Johnson made his remarks in the Commons after Tory eurosceptic Philip Hollobone said the UK had made a net contribution of £209 billion to the EU since joining in 1973, and added: ‘Will you make it clear to the EU that if they want a penny piece more then they can go whistle?’

Mr Johnson replied: ‘He makes a very valid point and I think that the sums that I have seen that they propose to demand from this country seem to me to be extortionate and I think “to go whistle” is an entirely appropriate expression.’

But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who will meet Mr Barnier in Brussels on Thursday, said: ‘I think it is ridiculous for the foreign secretary to approach important and serious negotiations with that silly, arrogant language that he so often employs.

‘Treat people with respect and there’s a fair chance you will be treated with respect in return. If you start on the basis of those silly remarks, what kind of response does he expect to get?’