Britain and the EU are stuck in a “disturbing” deadlock over the Brexit divorce bill, although a breakthrough remains possible in the next two months, European Chief Negotiator for the UK Exiting the EU Michel Barnier said on Thursday.
In a gesture to London, EU leaders at a summit next week are to order the launch of preparatory work on a future trade deal, even though they will not approve moving on to full trade talks until December.
However, the stalemate will stoke fears swirling in London and Brussels of a breakdown in talks that could see Britain leaving the EU in March 2019 without an agreement to soften the blow.
After a fifth round of talks with British Secretary of State for Exiting the EU David Davis, Barnier said he “cannot recommend” to EU leaders at the summit on Thursday and Friday next week that negotiations move on from divorce issues to talks on a post-Brexit relationship.
The Frenchman reserved his most cutting comments for the issue of financial commitments, saying that Britain had still not spelled out what British Prime Minister Theresa May promised in a key speech in Florence, Italy, last month.
“We are at a deadlock on this question, which is extremely disturbing,” Barnier said at a news conference with Davis at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, but added: “I remain convinced that with political will, decisive breakthroughs are within reach in the coming two months.”
The leaders of the 27 other EU countries have demanded that there be “sufficient progress” on the Brexit bill, the rights of EU citizens living in Britain and on Northern Ireland before moving on to discuss a post-Brexit trade deal.
Germany has led opposition to having even informal talks on trade or on a two-year trade transition period suggested by May, saying that the divorce must be sorted out first.
The tough line taken by Europe on Brexit was restated by French Minister of the Economy and Finance Bruno Le Maire, who on Thursday said in Washington that the “British people and British government have to assume the consequences of their decision” to leave.
However, May later said the two sides were “very close to agreement” on a number of issues, including citizens’ rights, and welcomed Barnier’s recognition that progress could be made in the coming weeks.
British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Boris Johnson told the EU to step up the pace.
“We’re looking for some urgency from our friends and partners, and it’s time to put a bit of a tiger in the tank and get this thing done,” he said.
Davis, a key figure in the “Leave” campaign in last year’s Brexit referendum, said he still hoped EU leaders could decide to shift to the next phase when they meet next week.
If that was not possible, he called on the EU to give Barnier a mandate next week to “explore ways forward,” even if the next phase is not formally opened.
In response, a draft summit statement by the EU leaders said they would reassess progress in December, and if the verdict is positive they would issue guidelines for trade talks plus a transition.
However, the concession comes amid growing concerns that Britain could leave without a deal, which could cause huge economic disruption on both sides of the English Channel.
Barnier warned that “a ‘no deal’ will be a very bad deal” after May admitted this week that her government was setting aside money for a so-called hard Brexit.
European Council President Donald Tusk on Tuesday warned that the bloc might rethink whether a Brexit deal is possible if there is no progress by December.
“If it turns out that the talks continue at a slow pace, and that ‘sufficient progress’ hasn’t been reached, then — together with our UK friends — we will have to think about where we are heading,” he said.
‘CONFESSED’: A court in Beijing said that former CCP member Ren Zhiqiang abused his power at a state firm and embezzled almost US$7.14 million of public funds A Chinese tycoon who called Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) a clown and criticized his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic was yesterday jailed for 18 years for corruption, bribery and embezzlement of public funds. Ren Zhiqiang (任志強) — once among the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) inner circle — disappeared from the public eye in March, shortly after penning an essay that lambasted Xi’s pandemic response. His outspokenness had earned the former chairman of state-owned property developer Huayuan Group the nickname “Big Cannon.” Yesterday’s verdict said that Ren embezzled almost 50 million yuan (US$7.4 million) of public funds and accepted bribes worth 1.25 million
AUSTRALIAN SITE: China has had a contract with SSC’s Yatharagga station since at least 2011, but the last time it used it was in June 2013. No final date has been given China would lose access to a strategic space tracking station in Western Australia when its contract expires, the facility’s owners said, a decision that cuts into Beijing’s expanding space exploration and navigational capabilities in the Pacific region. The Swedish Space Corp (SSC) has had a contract allowing Beijing access to the satellite antenna at the station since at least 2011. The station is located next to an SSC satellite station primarily used by the US and its agencies, including NASA. The Swedish state-owned company said it would not enter into any new contracts at the Australian site to support Chinese customers after
OFF BORDER ISLAND: The fisheries official disappeared from a patrol vessel wearing a life jacket and leaving behind his shoes, indicating an intentional move, Seoul said North Korean soldiers shot dead a suspected South Korean defector at sea and burned his body as a COVID-19 precaution after he was interrogated in the water over several hours, Seoul military officials said yesterday. It is the first killing of a South Korean citizen by North Korean forces for a decade, and comes with Pyongyang at high alert over the COVID-19 pandemic and inter-Korean relations at a standstill. The fisheries official disappeared from a patrol vessel near the western border island of Yeonpyeong on Monday, the official said. More than 24 hours later, North Korean forces located him in their waters and
The scarcity of commercial flights landing at Sydney Airport has been a disaster for airlines and workers, but for hobby pilots the COVID-19 pandemic has provided the opportunity of a lifetime. The quieter-than-usual runways mean that private pilots have been given the chance to land at the international airport for the first time. When Sydney Flight College club captain Tim Lindley put out a call, he received an overwhelming response. He eventually organized for 14 light aircraft to fly into Sydney airport on Sunday. “For a lot of the pilots involved, including myself, it was a childhood dream to land in a big