Brussels and UK disagree over who has to make next Brexit move
May due to make speech on Brexit progress where she will say ‘the ball is in their court’
UK prime minister Theresa May arrives in Downing Street on October 9th, 2017. Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images.
As a fifth round of talks was opening in the Belgian capital, Theresa May called for “flexibility” on both sides so they can move forward to the second phase - including a free trade deal.
In a statement to MPs updating them on progress since her Florence speech last month, the UK prime minister will say that the initiative now lies with the EU side, adding “the ball is in their court”.
But at his daily press briefing in Brussels, the European Commission’s chief spokesman, Margaritis Schinas, insisted the next move had to come from the UK.
“There is a clear sequencing to these talks. There has been so far no solution found on step one, which is the divorce proceedings, so the ball is entirely in the UK court for the rest to happen,” he said.
His comments follow the latest assessment of the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, that there still has not been “sufficient progress” on the issues of citizens’ rights, the border with Ireland and the UK’s “divorce bill” for the talks to move forward.
Downing Street insisted there had been a “constructive” response to Mrs May’s Florence speech in which she promised to honour the UK’s outstanding financial commitments and offered to continue paying in to the EU budget during a two-year transition following Brexit.
The PM’s official spokesman said: “The prime minister said after her speech in Florence that the intention was to create momentum. I think we have seen that momentum.
“The response from the EU and its leaders has been constructive.”
However it looks increasingly unlikely that EU leaders will agree that they can move forward to the second phase when they meet in Brussels later this month.
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has warned that it would take “miracles” for them to be able to move on by the time of the summit on October 19th-20th.
In her Commons statement, Mrs May will tell MPs she is “optimistic” that she will get a positive response from the remaining 27 member states and they will prove the “doomsayers” wrong.
“Achieving that partnership will require leadership and flexibility, not just from us but from our friends, the 27 nations of the EU.
“And as we look forward to the next stage, the ball is in their court. But I am optimistic we will receive a positive response.
“Because what we are seeking is not just the best possible deal for us — but also the best possible deal for our European friends too.”
She will acknowledge that “progress will not always be smooth” but will seek to strike a positive note about the Brexit process.
“By approaching these negotiations in a constructive way — in a spirit of friendship and co-operation and with our sights firmly set on the future — I believe we can prove the doomsayers wrong,” she will say.
“I believe we can seize the opportunities of this defining moment in the history of our nation.”