Clock is ticking as Brexit negotiations resume in Brussels


Fri, Nov 10, 2017 - Page 6

Britain and the EU yesterday resumed Brexit talks with little hope of a breakthrough and fears that the fragility of British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government threatens further progress before the end of the year.

The sixth round of negotiations is the first since EU leaders warned May at an Oct. 20 summit that Britain had made insufficient progress to move on from divorce issues to discussions of a trade deal.

They said they planned to start internal preparations soon with the aim of kicking off trade talks with Britain next month, but officials said that that deadline now seems increasingly shaky.

“More progress needed on three key topics,” European Chief Negotiator for the UK Exiting the EU Michel Barnier said on Twitter on the eve of the talks, along with a graphic showing the terms the remaining 27 EU states expect Britain to agree to.

This week’s talks were to feature a stripped down two-day schedule, with Barnier and British Secretary of State for Exiting the EU David Davis only set to meet today, sources said.

The EU is demanding progress on three key divorce issues — Britain’s exit bill to meet its commitments to the EU budget, the fate of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and the rights of EU citizens in Britain.

However, the British government looks increasingly distracted, with the resignation of its aid minister on Wednesday adding to the sense of chaos.

“I see a strong willingness to come to a deal. I am confident that everybody understands what has to be done on both sides,” an EU diplomat said on condition of anonymity. “The question is do they have the strength and will the moves be made in time by the end of November, first week of December?”

Britain must show progress by then if it wants the bloc to move to talks on a future relationship and a post-Brexit transition period at the next summit on Dec. 14, EU sources said.

Failure to do so would likely push back the move to February or even March, leaving only about six months to reach a deal by October, the time line Barnier has set for the withdrawal agreement to be ratified.

The EU says it wants Britain to provide written guarantees of a pledge to honor its financial commitments that May made in September in Florence, Italy.

“We don’t need speeches, we need commitments,” the EU diplomat said.