“Fundamental” differences over EU citizens’ rights and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice have emerged between the UK and Brussels after the first substantive week of Brexit negotiations.
Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier told Brexit Secretary David Davis that the rights of citizens in the UK must be backed by the ECJ, describing the stance as an “obligation”.
But the UK rejects that, with the Government understood to be bristling at what it sees as “judicial imperialism” from Brussels.
The issue could thwart the necessary “substantive progress” required in the early phase of negotiations to move onto talks about the future trade relationship.
It is understood disagreement has also emerged after the UK demanded that British citizens resident in an EU country should have their right to move to any other of the 27 nations enshrined in any settlement – something the EU currently rejects.
Many regard Brussels’ position as a bargaining tool to get guarantees from the UK on future family members joining EU citizens living in Britain and the export of certain social benefits.
Mr Barnier demanded clarification on key points surrounding the financial settlement the EU must make, citizens’ rights and Northern Ireland – but acknowledged on the latter issue there was a lot of convergence.
It is understood there is also agreement between the two sides on protecting health and pension rights for EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in Europe.
But the UK’s plans to carry out a basic criminality check on anyone wanting to apply for “settled status” to stay in Britain post-Brexit could put it at odds with Europe.
On the so-called “exit bill”, Mr Barnier warned all accounts “must be settled”, while on citizens’ rights he said: “There does remain one fundamental divergence on the way in which such rights would be guaranteed and on several other points, for example, the rights of future family members or the exports of certain social benefits.”
Mr Davis said talks had been “robust” but there was much to be “positive” about, urging Brussels to show “flexibility”
Labour said the lack of progress was “deeply concerning” and did bode well for the future.
While the EU is pressing the UK for further details about its willingness to pay a fee to Brussels, the UK is understood to think the EU team is being unclear on what they believe the legal obligations are over the divorce bill as well, with frustration on both sides.
Mr Barnier said: “A clarification of the UK position is indispensable for us to negotiate and for us to make sufficient progress on this financial dossier, which is inseparable from the other withdrawal dossiers.
“What we want – and we are working on this – is an orderly withdrawal for the United Kingdom, that’s decided. An orderly withdrawal means accounts must be settled.
“We know that agreement will not be achieved through incremental steps. As soon as the UK is ready to clarify the nature of its commitments, we will be prepared to discuss this with the British negotiators.”
Mr Barnier continued: “We require this clarification on the financial settlement, on citizens’ rights, on Ireland – with the two key points of the common travel area and the Good Friday Agreement – and the other separation issues where this week’s experience has quite simply shown we make better progress where our respective positions are clear.”
Mr Davis was decidedly more upbeat, saying: “Overall I’m encouraged by the progress we have made on understanding each other’s positions.”
He echoed previous comments from Theresa May that the UK had made a “fair and serious offer” on citizens’ rights and added there were “many concrete areas where we agree, as well as areas where there will be further discussion”.
On the financial settlement, Mr Davis said: “We both recognise the importance of sorting out the obligations we have to one another, both legally and in a spirit of mutual cooperation.”
He added: “We have had robust but constructive talks this week.
“Clearly there’s a lot left to talk about and further work before we can resolve this. Ultimately, getting to a solution will require flexibility from both sides.”