EU gives Britain until December to make new Brexit divorce bill offer
UK failure to meet deadline would push decision on phase two talks back to March 2018
The UK has been told it has two weeks to come up with a new and substantial offer on its Brexit “divorce” bill if it wants to to proceed in December to talks on its future relationship with the EU.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier made clear that unless a new offer on the bill, estimated at more than €60 billion, was made by the beginning of December there would not be enough time to prepare for the debate and a decision at the EU summit two weeks later. He was speaking at the end of the sixth round of Brexit talks in Brussels on Friday.
A failure by the UK to meet the December deadline would see the decision on phase-two talks pushed back to next March.
The current divorce talks must achieve “sufficient progress” in three areas – citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and Northern Ireland – to pass on to phase-two discussions on the future relationship.
A leaked European Commission assessment of the talks on Northern Ireland makes it is clear the “sufficient progress” hurdle in this strand is still some way from being cleared. The paper suggested the UK must face up to the requirement that it will have to adopt and implement on a continuing basis the full gamut of new EU regulations and standards if it wishes to create a frictionless border.
In essence, the paper suggests, if the UK leaves the customs union it will have to create another one, but with a different name.
London’s adamant rejection of the paper’s conclusion makes progress on the Border issue deeply problematic, particularly in such a tight timeframe.
There was a dreary familiarity to the joint press conference between Mr Barnier and the British Brexit secretary, David Davis. Press conferences after previous rounds of talks had been dominated by journalists’ questions about whether the negotiatiors would achieve a breakthrough for the EU summit meeting in October.
Now, the same questions are being asked about the December summit. The answer is also the same – “if there is a political will from London”.
Mr Davis said he is ready to meet more regularly , but was offering little more.
Both negotiators insisted again on Friday there had been progress in each of the three priority areas, but there was little evidence of more than incremental progress in each one.
On Northern Ireland, both men spoke largely in generalities but the commission paper, which is a report to ministers, was a little more explicit.
There has been success in agreeing the joint principles underpinning the agreement by both sides to preserve the Common Travel Area. An “intensive” work has been done on setting out the potential effect of Brexit on some as yet unspecified 140 areas of cross-Border co-operation .
In this context, the memo does, however, specifically refer to the six North-South implementation bodies, six areas of co-operation linked to the North-South Ministerial Council and seven priority areas listed by the latter. These include environment, health, agriculture , transport, education, tourism, telecommunications/broadcasting, inland fisheries, justice and security, and sport.
Again rejecting any solution that would treat Northern Ireland separately from the rest of the UK, Mr Davis, admitting there had been “frank discussions” on the issue, said: “We respect the European Union desire to protect the legal order of the single market and customs union. But that cannot come at cost to the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom. ”
Any solution, he said, “cannot amount to creating a new border inside the UK”.
Mr Barnier said there had been progress in the area of citizens’ rights and he welcomed the UK government’s publication of a streamlined application system for EU nationals living in Britain who want to stay after Brexit.
But there remain serious differences on issues like family reunification, the recognition of qualifications, the transferability of welfare payments, and the role of the European Court of Justice in upholding such rights.
Mr Barnier defined “sufficient progress” as progress that is “sincere and real”.