The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator has issued a blunt warning to the UK that there must be progress on the so-called “separation” issues before the negotiations can move towards the future trade relationship.
Speaking next to Britain’s Brexit Secretary David Davis at the start of the third series of talks, Michel Barnier said: “To be honest, I am concerned. Time passes quickly.
“I welcome the UK government’s paper[s]. We have read them very carefully. But we need UK positions on all separation issues.
“This is necessary to make sufficient progress. We must start negotiating seriously. We need UK papers that are clear in order to have constructive negotiations.”
The EU wants clear commitments from Britain on the financial settlement on exit, on EU citizens’ rights, and on Ireland, before it will move towards the future trading relationship between the EU and UK.
However, in recent weeks the UK has been attempting to increase pressure on the EU to accelerate the move towards the future relationship ahead of the EU’s own timetable.
This was bluntly rejected by Mr Barnier, who levelled a thinly veiled accusation that the UK’s position was still ambiguous on the issues of concern to the EU.
“The sooner we remove the ambiguity,” he said, as the two arrived with their officials at the European Commission’s headquarters, “the sooner we will be in a position to discuss the future relationship and a transitional period”.
Mr Barnier said: “The European Council guidelines are clear. That what is expected on separation, on transition, on conditions for a future relationship. The EU27 and the European Parliament stand united. They will not accept that separation issues are not addressed properly.”
He added: “I’m ready to intensify negotiations over the coming weeks in order to advance.”
For his part, Mr Davis said the UK had published a large number of papers covering a range of “important issues” and “our vision for a deep and special partnership that we want with the EU in the future”.
Mr Davis said: “They are the products of hard work and detailed thinking that’s been going on behind the scenes, not just in the last few weeks but in the last 12 months, and should for the basis of what I hope will be a constructive week of talks between the European Commission and the United Kingdom.”
He said the week was about driving forward technical discussions on all the issues.
“We want to lock in the points where we agree, unpick the areas where we disagree, and make further progress across all areas.
“In order to do that will require flexibility, and imagination from both sides – something the council has asked for. Our goal remains the same. We want a deal that works in the best interests of both the European Union and the United Kingdom, and people and business right across Europe.
“We’re ready to roll up our sleeves and get down to work again once more.”
The “withdrawal” phase of talks resumed today, but expectations of sufficient progress by October, when Britain hopes negotiations can move on to dealing with future trading relations, are growing thin.
As well as Britain’s financial obligations and the rights of European Union citizens living in the UK, a further session on Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement will also be held.
Britain has produced a flurry of position papers on issues such as customs arrangements, the European Court of Justice, civil and judicial cooperation and Northern Ireland and Ireland.
While the papers have been welcomed, senior EU officials have said proposals contained therein either lack detail or are unworkable altogether.
On the Irish paper, a senior EU official said it was full of “magical thinking”.
Officials have also accused the UK of using the peace process as a bargaining chip to try to further its aim of accelerating the negotiations towards the trade part, something member states have said cannot happen until trust is built up on the issue of Britain’s financial settlement and EU citizens’ rights.
This week the commission expects UK negotiators to spell out how it will preserve the Good Friday Agreement, particularly the North-South dimension.
Senior EU officials have said this is not just an economic issue – it is also a societal and therefore a political issue.
There are 12 cross-border policy areas in all, several of which are underpinned by EU law.
How Britain intends to square that circle is something Mr Barnier will be looking for this week.
Meanwhile, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said some realism is needed in the Brexit talks.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Mr Coveney said the UK has given a welcome outline on what it wants to achieve in relation to Ireland, post Brexit.
However, he added it is now up to the UK to outline how the position papers would work.
Mr Coveney said the British government needs to be put under pressure to make significant progress on how it will solve the many Irish problems.