The EU’s Brexit negotiator urged Britain on Thursday to provide more clarity on key issues after the second round of talks wrapped up in Brussels with “fundamental” differences remaining.
Michel Barnier said after talks with his counterpart David Davis that the two sides were still at odds over Britain’s divorce bill and over the rights of European citizens living in Britain.
“We require this clarification on the financial settlement, citizens rights and on Ireland,” Barnier, a former French foreign minister and European Commissioner, told a joint press conference with Davis.
“This week’s experience shows that we make better progress when our respective positions are clear,” adding that the next round of talks on August 28 “must be about clarification”.Davis, a long-time eurosceptic picked by British Prime Minister Theresa May to lead the negotiations, said the talks were “robust but constructive” but that there was “a lot left to talk about.”
“A solution will require flexibility from both sides,” he added.
The Brexit talks are the second round since negotiations formally began in June, a year after Britain’s historic referendum vote to leave the 28-member European Union, but the first to really go into detail.
The negotiations are dealing with issues around Britain’s divorce — Britain’s exit bill, the rights of EU citizens living in Britain, and the Northern Ireland border — with talks on a future trade deal only set to start if leaders decide in October there has been “sufficient progress”.
The EU wants an outline deal agreed by October 2018, so that the European and British parliaments can approve it in time for Brexit day, which is scheduled for the end of March 2019.
Barnier warned there was a “fundamental divergence” with Britain on whether the EU’s top court would keep jurisdiction over the rights of three million European citizens living in Britain after the UK leaves the bloc.
He suggested however that there could be a solution in the way that a separate court overseeing non-EU Norway’s membership of a free trade arrangement with the EU “dovetails” with the European Court of Justice.
Barnier meanwhile urged Britain to set out its position on the amount it must pay before leaving to settle its obligations under the EU budget, which Brussels puts at around 100 billion euros.
“Clarification of the United Kingdom’s position is essential” on the bill, Barnier said.
Davis said he did not accept that Britain would necessarily have to pay anything, but added: “We both recognise the importance of sorting out the obligations we have to one another.”
Scallops and lamb
Davis later hosted Barnier at the British ambassador’s residence in Brussels to discuss the progress of the negotiations over a meal of Scottish scallops followed by lamb, a British official said.
The lunch was the two negotiators’ first discussion on what is officially British soil after all their previous talks took place at the headquarters of the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm.
Davis himself has only been in Brussels on Monday and Thursday, with a team of 98 British negotiators looking after most of the talks in the interim on his behalf.
Despite the EU’s call for more clarity, sources close to the negotiations said Britain would not agree on any figure for the divorce bill until the very end of the talks.
The disagreement over the European Court of Justice promises to come up throughout the negotiations, the sources added.
On the border between Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland, there has been “goodwill” over maintaining the Good Friday peace agreement and on keeping the common travel area on the island, sources said.
But agreement on how to prevent a “hard border” for the movement of goods and people in Ireland will have to wait until later, they said.
British officials meanwhile rejected “ludicrous” reports that it had come into the talks underprepared, following a photograph of an empty-handed Davis on Monday across the table from Barnier, who had a stack of papers.