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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Brexit: Latest talks end with EU chief negotiator declaring ‘no decisive progress made’

Three days of negotiations ended with a tense press conference in Brussels

Britain's Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis and European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier hold a joint news conference marking the end of the third formal negotiation session in Brussels. Francois Lenoir/ Reuters
Britain's Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis and European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier hold a joint news conference marking the end of the third formal negotiation session in Brussels. Francois Lenoir/ Reuters

The third round of Brexit negotiations between Britain and the European Union concluded on Thursday with a tense press conference in which the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier declared that “no decisive progress” had been made.

Talks led by Britain’s Brexit secretary David Davis and Mr Barnier began in Brussels on Monday with Mr Davis urging “flexibility and imagination” from both sides.

However, negotiations stalled on the key issue of the so-called “divorce bill”, after it was reported that London had spent three hours on Wednesday arguing that the EU had no legal basis for demanding €100bn in a settlement.

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Read more: Whingeing Britain needs to stop moaning and start developing a Brexit strategy

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Along with agreeing Britain’s financial obligations to the EU, discussions were held about the Irish border and EU citizens’ rights.

The EU chief said while there had been "fruitful" discussions the border in Ireland, the two sides were still "quite far" away from getting to a point where talks could be widened to include other issues.

"This week provided useful clarifications... but we did not get any decisive progress on the central subjects," Mr Barnier said.

The EU has said that “sufficient progress” must have been made on the three key subjects before talks can move on to discussing Britain’s future relationship with the EU and trade.

However, Mr Davis argued that the three key issues were "inextricably linked" with Britain’s future relationship with the EU in the hope of widening the talks to include trade.

"We can only resolve some of these issues with an eye on how the new partnership between us will work in future," Mr Davis said at the conference with his EU counterpart.

"This is not about skipping ahead or trying to reopen previous discussions, it is about pragmatically driving the process we all want to see."

During the decidedly frosty interview, Mr Barnier accused the British side of trying to control the single market from the outside in a series of position papers published by the UK government last week.

Mr Davis said "some concrete progress" had been made while urging "flexibility and imagination" from both sides. Francois Lenoir/ Reuters
Mr Davis said "some concrete progress" had been made while urging "flexibility and imagination" from both sides. Francois Lenoir/ Reuters

"I see a certain nostalgia in some requests from the UK which amount to enjoying the benefits of the single market," said Mr Barnier.

"But Brexit means Brexit, leaving the single market means leaving the single market," he added.

This was met with a denial from the Brexit secretary, who hit back, saying: "I wouldn't confuse the belief in the free market for nostalgia.”

Mr Barnier also stressed that he was not “angry” while fielding questions from reporters.

"I am not angry, I am determined," he said, adding that he had "shown the typical calm of a mountaineer."

Mr Davis, on the other hand, was more optimistic in tone, arguing that “some concrete progress” had been made on many issues.

"This week we have had long and detailed discussions across multiple areas and I think it's fair to say we have seen some concrete progress, and Michel referred to one but there's more than that," he said.

The British politician repeated his earlier plea for “flexibility and imagination” from both sides.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair met European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker for a meeting in Brussels. Olivier Hoslet/ EPA
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair met European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker for a meeting in Brussels. Olivier Hoslet/ EPA

Meanwhile, Britain’s former prime minister and prominent remain campaigner Tony Blair was in Brussels on Thursday for talks with European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker.

In a statement, the commission said the meeting was about a “wide number of issues of European and international interest”, denying that Brexit had been at the top of the agenda.

The timing of the visit has raised eyebrows among many of those in favour of Brexit, who accused the former prime minister of interfering.

When asked about Mr Blair’s visit at the press conference, Mr Davis responded: “I am not going to comment on the movement of private citizens and what they do."

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