British to appeal for EU flexibility as frosty Brexit talks restart

Latest round of Brexit negotiations between UK and EU begins on Monday

EU officials are saying privately that the British government has yet to engage seriously on the detail of the separation agreement. Photograph: Getty Images

EU officials are saying privately that the British government has yet to engage seriously on the detail of the separation agreement. Photograph: Getty Images

 

The latest round of Brexit negotiations between the UK and the EU begins on Monday, with officials from the two sides due to discuss the implications for the Belfast Agreement, the Border and the Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK over four days of meetings in Brussels.

However, substantive discussions on the future of the Irish Border will not take place until the next phase of the negotiations as the EU side will not discuss the future relationship between the union and the UK until it is satisfied with the progress of the separation agreement governing citizens’ rights and Britain’s exit bill.

London sources say the British will push the EU to be “more flexible” in its approach to the talks – code for discussions on the future trading relationship, including customs arrangements that would define any discussions on the future of the Irish Border.

However, Brussels sources have insisted all week that the EU side is adamant it will not discuss the future relationship until it is satisfied with the progress of the first “separation” phase of the talks.

Cool

The British government has published a series of papers in the past fortnight, including documents on the future of the border and on possible customs arrangements after the UK leaves.

However, the EU response has been cool, with many EU officials saying privately that the British government has yet to engage seriously on the detail of the separation agreement, and that the UK remains in the position of wanting to enjoy the benefits of EU membership while avoiding any of the obligations.

Reports from Brussels have suggested that senior EU officials regard the British proposals on the Border as a “fairy-tale”.

The UK papers had suggested that there could be a new customs union between the EU and Britain, avoiding the need for any customs on the Border; alternatively, 80 per cent of firms could be exempted from customs. Sources in Brussels and Dublin consider it unlikely these proposals would be accepted in Brussels, at least in their current form.

Frosty relations

A measure of the frosty relations between the two sides is that it took several days to decide if the talks would begin on Monday or Tuesday as Monday is a bank holiday in the UK.

EU officials pointed out that the commission’s chief negotiator, Frenchman Michel Barnier, had worked on Bastille Day (July 14th) to enable the discussions to continue.

In the event, it was decided that this round of talks – the third since discussions finally got under way in June – would begin on Monday with a plenary session led by the two chief negotiators, Mr Barnier and the British Brexit secretary David Davis, and conclude on Thursday.

After the plenary session the talks will break into working groups in a bid to make progress on individual issues.

Talks on Ireland take place in a parallel process led by the two deputy chief negotiators, Olly Robbins and Sabine Weyand.

Meanwhile, former president Mary McAleese has said she would be “heartbroken” if there was a return to identity checks on the Northern Ireland Border.

Ms McAleese, a native of Belfast, also said she could not see any sign of a return to powersharing, a situation she described as “tragic”.