Brexit talks: Progress on citizens’ rights but major deadlocks remain

Parties begin drafting common principles needed to underpin Common Travel Area

Progress has been made in the fourth round of Brexit talks this week, notably on citizens' rights, but there remains substantial deadlocks on the issue and on the UK Brexit bill, and little prospect of moving soon to second-phase discussions with the UK on its future relationship with the EU.

In the Northern Ireland strand of the discussions, detailed work began on how to safeguard Belfast Agreement-related North-South co-operation. This is on the basis of a paper, an "audit" presented by the UK team, which lists some 150 institutions and programmes potentially affected by Brexit.

It also began drafting common principles needed to underpin the maintenance of the Common Travel Area.

Both EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and UK Brexit secretary David Davis enthused to journalists that the speech by prime minister Theresa May in Florence last week had created a "new dynamic" in the meetings this week. However Mr Barnier said that the UK had been unable yet to spell out in detail what financial commitments she had undertaken to honour.


“For the EU the only way to achieve ‘sufficient progress’ is that all commitments undertaken at 28 [countries] are honoured at 28,” he said. And he again reiterated that there could be no discussion of the transition arrangements Ms May had called for until that “sufficient progress” was achieved.

The teams will meet again in the week beginning October 9th, but with little prospect of a breakthrough ahead of the European summit two weeks later. Asked when he would recommend that the second round of talks could begin, Mr Barnier would only say “as soon as possible”.

In Dublin on Thursday Taoiseach Leo Varadkar echoed Mr Barnier’s concerns that the “sufficient progress” hurdle will not yet be passed by the October summit.

“While prime minister May’s speech last week in Florence was welcome, it does not yet bring us to where we need to be,” he told the All-Island Civic Dialogue on Brexit.

“While we have seen some progress, significant gaps remain and time is fast running out. So, the Government has been increasingly vocal in recent weeks in calling on the UK government to come forward with workable solutions on issues, so that the negotiations can move to the next phase.”

The Taoiseach is flying out this afternoon to attend Friday’s EU Tallinn digital summit, where he will speak to fellow heads of government about Irish Brexit concerns on the fringes of the meeting.

At the talks this week, in the discussions on the rights of EU and UK citizens in each others’ territory in the aftermath of Brexit, the UK has agreed to give “direct effect” to the eventual withdrawal/divorce agreement with the EU by writing it into UK law.

That will give more “certainty, clarity and stability for EU citizens in the UK”, said Mr Davis. But there is still a sharp disagreement between the two sides over the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK in interpreting and safeguarding those rights. The latter was only prepared to commit to requiring its courts after Brexit to apply EU law concepts in a manner consistent with EU law.

There remains a big gap too on the reluctance of the UK to uphold a right of reunification of families of EU citizens, while it is also seeking an EU commitment to allow its citizens residing in the EU the right of onward movement within the EU.

Significant progress has been made on aligning social entitlements like health and welfare of both sides.

The leaders of the European Parliament’s groups also chipped in on Thursday with a call on the European Council to determine that “sufficient progress” has not yet been made. A motion, drawn up by parliament’s Brexit steering group will be debated and put to a vote by the full house next Tuesday.

Parliament co-ordinator for Brexit Guy Verhofstadt said that: “Prime Minister May opened the door to progress in her speech in Florence . . . But we would like to see the UK government provide greater clarity. We are still waiting for answers on vital issues, such as how to keep Northern Ireland in the customs union, or how to find a special arrangement that will prevent a hardening of the Border.

“ Regarding citizens’ rights and the financial settlement, we are waiting for concrete answers to the proposals made by the EU negotiating team.”

Patrick Smyth

Patrick Smyth

Patrick Smyth is former Europe editor of The Irish Times