Brexit news – Michel Barnier and David Davis update on EU exit talks | Politics | News

During a fiery press conference briefing the Frenchman accused the British of rejecting his proposals for a Brexit bill and trying to undermine his negotiating mandate from the other 27 EU members. 

He told a packed room in Brussels that the UK was taking a “nostalgic” approach to the negotiations and insisted his number one priority was maintaining the “integrity” of the bloc. 

In response an increasingly frustrated looking David Davis struck an equally downbeat tone, admitting there were “still significant differences to be bridged” on a huge range of issues. 

Both men said they were prepared to intensify the level of the talks and agreed that the “quality” of the eventual deal struck between Britain and the EU is “more important than the timing”. 

But it was clear from the demeanour of both men that the negotiations have hit a stalemate, especially over the Brexit bill where Mr Davis insisted he would tigerishly defend the interests of UK taxpayers. 

After days of apparently fruitless round-table talks Mr Barnier said: “We have made useful clarifications on many points. However, we did not get any decisive progress on any of the principal subjects even though the discussion we’ve had about Ireland was fruitful. 

“The single market and the EU capacity to regulate, supervise and enforce our laws must not be and will not be undermined by Brexit. We must protect the legal order and the integration of the single market.

“I never thought that this negotiation would be easy. Time is pressing if we want to get a global agreement. At the current state of progress we’re quite far from being able to say that sufficient progress has been made.” 

David Davis and Michel BarnierGETTY

David Davis and Michel Barnier

He added that the EU would not budge “one iota” from the position they were tasked with by leaders at the EU Council and said those who seek to find the “least difference” between his negotiating mandate and the actons of his negotiators would be disappointed. 

He said: “This mandate is what I am scrupulously taking forward – it’s very clear and precise. It sets out a sequencing. It asks us to do things in the correct order to succeed. It clearly mentions conditions for a transition period if the UK should so request. It asks us to organise the orderly withdrawal in a way that takes into account a future relation. 

“Those who seek to find the least difference between what this European negotiating team is doing and that which was tasked by the member states those people are wasting their time if they seek one iota of difference.”

Mr Barnier also dismissed British hopes over a future trade deal as “impossible” accusing UK ministers of wanting to retain all the benefits of being in the Single Market whilst observing none of the obligations. 

He raged: “The EU will preserve its autonomy of decision making. The UK wants to take back control, wants to adopt its own standards and regulations, but it also wants to have these standards recognised automatically in the EU. That is what the UK papers ask for. This is simply impossible. You cannot be outside the Single Market and shape its legal order.” 

At one point an irritated looking Mr Barnier, who insisted he was not “angry” but rather “impatient”, said he thought Britain’s proposals on a trade deal showed “nostalgia”. 

As the Frenchman appeared to suggest that British negotiators did not fundamentally understand how the Single Market works, Mr Davis interjected by saying “free trade”, drawing a withering look from the EU’s negotiator. 

Mr Barnier said: “In some proposals I see a sort of nostalgia in the form of specific requests which would amount to continuing to enjoy the benefits of the Single Market and EU membership without actually being part of it. Perhaps I’ve got the wrong end of the stick and there is no nostalgia.” 

But in a sign of growing tensions between the two men Mr Davis immediately snapped back: “I wouldn’t confuse a belief in the free market for nostalgia.” 

In his response, Mr Davis called on the bloc to show more “imagination and flexibility” and said he had a duty to “rigorously” challenge the Frenchman’s demands for a Brexit bill of up to £90 billion. 

He said: “We have a duty to taxpayers to interrogate it rigorously. It’s fair to say across the piece we have a very different legal stance, but as we said the settlement should be in accordance with law and in the spirit of the UK’s continuing partnership with the EU. 

“In terms of the approach the EU made a claim on the UK, on the UK taxpayer, for a large sum of money, unspecified but undoubtedly large, and on the basis of what it determined to be our legal obligations and so the proper approach to that is to go through line by line and see whether those legal obligations are correct. 

“We have repeated time and time again we are a country which meets our international obligations but they have to be specified. They don’t even have to be legal – we also recognise moral obligations – but they need to be specific. I don’t think the British tax payer would expect anything less.”

“Nobody will pretend it was anything other than a tough exchange this week but the British taxpayers would expect nothing less.” 

The Brexit secretary also openly rejected the EU’s phased approach to the negotiations, under which the issues of citizens’ rights, the Brexit bill and Ireland have to be resolved before trade talks can begin, portraying it as unworkable. 

He said: “This week we’ve discussed a wide range of issues which will have a significant impact on people’s lives. 

“We remain comimitted to making as much progress as possible on these issues that are solely related to our withdrawal. The UK’s approach is significantly more flexible and pragmatic than the EU’s. We urge the EU to be more imaginative and flexible. 

“There’s an unavoidable overlap between the withdrawal and the future partnership and they cannot be neatly compartmentalised. We’re peeling away the layers one by one working through many issues at speed. Both sides, both teams aim to be constructive, aim to get an outcome which is in the benefit of both the EU and the UK.

“My message to Michel is let’s continue to work together constructively, to put people above process. Our separation from the EU and our future relationship is inextricably linked. We can only solve some of these issues without an eye to the future.” 

Mr Davis was also asked what he thought of former UK prime minister Tony Blair’s visit to meet Jean-Claude Juncker today, to which he replied “I’m not going to comment on the movements of private citizens and what they do.” 

On Tuesday British officials riled the bloc by delivering a Powerpoint presentation to eurocrats deconstructing the legality of their Brexit bill demands line by line. 

One senior EU diplomat said those in the room from the European side were “flabbergasted” by the dismissal of their calculations, which are believed to top £50 billion. 

But those close to the UK negotiating team are adamant that the bloc’s demands are unrealistic, with one source saying you “wouldn’t write a cheque based on the Commission’s paper”. 

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