Early talks on post-Brexit trade deal ‘increasingly unlikely’ | Politics

The Brexit negotiations are faltering and the British government’s hopes of opening up talks on a future trade deal with the EU this autumn are increasingly likely to be dashed, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has reported back to the bloc’s member states.

Barnier told ambassadors to the EU that the British government had been unable to provide sufficient clarity on its positions during the last week of talks, leaving him pessimistic about the future.

The European council, whose members comprise the member states, is due to rule at the end of October on whether sufficient progress has been made with the British on the issues of citizens’ rights, the UK’s divorce bill and the border in Ireland, in order for negotiations to be widened to include the future relationship.

Barnier, a former French minister, told the member states representatives at a meeting on Wednesday the UK had not matched the EU in providing clear position papers on the key issues, including the UK’s divorce bill on leaving.

One EU source told the Guardian that Barnier said if the negotiations continued as they had been going sufficient progress would not be made.

The source added: “He didn’t mention any particular area, it was more general, but he said the UK was not providing enough position papers and the chances were not big of sufficient progress being made by October.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Exiting the EU said in response that the government remained confident about enough progress being made for talks on a future trade deal to begin after the summer.

“Negotiations to leave the EU are under way and we have already made good progress on a number of issues,” she said. “As the secretary of state said, it is important that both sides demonstrate a dynamic and flexible approach to these negotiations.

“Government officials are working at pace and we are confident we will have made sufficient progress by October to advance the talks to the next phase. On the financial settlement, we have been clear that we recognise the UK has obligations to the EU and that the EU also has obligations to the UK.”

The Liberal Democrat’s Brexit spokesmanTom Brake said: “The Brexiteers’ promise of a quick and easy trade deal have been dashed by our government’s own incompetence.
“The country is now hurtling towards a disastrous Brexit, but Conservative ministers are busy squabbling about chicken. It’s crucial we give people a way out of this mess by giving them a final vote with a chance to remain in the EU.”

Barnier’s briefing to the ambassadors is unlikely to come as a surprise to the British negotiators, who have been resisting demands from the EU negotiating team for clarity, in particular, on what the UK accepts it must pay on leaving the bloc.

One Whitehall source suggested that the British were unlikely to cave in and provide detail on the financial settlement this summer as it was a key piece of leverage. The UK negotiating team feel that they do not need to provide matching position papers in order for talks to be successful, and that being free of such documents gives them greater flexibility.

In a sign of the frustration in Brussels at the UK’s stance, only earlier this week the European parliament’s Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, who was also briefed by Barnier on the recent negotiating round in Brussels, publicly warned the British that there needed to be progress in all three key areas if talks were to widen. “If we want negotiations to succeed within the limited time we have, progress on more detailed content will have to be made sooner rather than later,” he said.

At a press conference following the last talks, Barnier himself said that information on the UK’s position on the divorce bill was “indispensable”. It has been mooted that the so-called divorce bill could be as big as £75bn, although in response to such reports the foreign secretary Boris Johnson told the Commons that Brussels could “go whistle”.

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