The Brexit negotiations could be in a stalemate for months unless the UK agrees to honour all its financial commitments, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has suggested at the end of the latest round of talks.
A “new dynamic” had been created by Theresa May’s speech in Florence last week, Barnier said during a press conference in Brussels, where both parties said progress had been made, especially on the issue of citizens’ rights.
But standout issues remain, and Barnier lamented that the UK’s Brexit secretary, David Davis, was in his own words not yet ready to specify what past financial commitments would now be met by the UK.
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“The UK explained also that it was not in a position yet to identify its commitments taken during membership,” Barnier said. “For the EU, the only way to reach sufficient progress is that all commitments taken at 28 [member states] are honoured at 28.
“We have had a constructive week, yes, but we are not yet there in terms of achieving sufficient progress. Further work is needed in coming weeks and coming months.”
Barnier said the UK had confirmed that EU citizens would be able to invoke their rights before UK courts, which he hailed as “very important” progress. But there was still disagreement on the role of the European court of justice in securing those rights, and “this is a stumbling block for the EU”. A big gap remains on family reunification, he added.
EU leaders insist talks must make sufficient progress on Britain’s financial settlement, the rights of citizens, and the status of the Irish border before they can be broadened to encompass future relations between Britain and the bloc. The UK had hoped to get the go-ahead on talks about future relations when EU leaders meet next month.
Davis said “decisive steps forward had been made”, in particular on ensuring the rights of citizens. “This round was a vital one,” he added, as he called for pragmatism from the European commission, the EU’s executive body.
Citizens’ rights are the rights and protections offered to all EU citizens, including free movement and residence, equal treatment and a wide range of other rights under EU law regarding work, education, social security and health.
They are held by some 3.5 million citizens from other member states in the UK and about 1.2 million British nationals on the continent, and are a key part of the negotiations that are taking Britain out of Europe.
In a joint statement the UK’s Confederation of British Industry and Trades Union Congress urged both sides to take action to guarantee citizens’ right after March 2019.
“After 15 months of human poker, the uncertainty facing 4 million European and UK citizens has become intolerable, the CBI and TUC said. “It is a blight on the values of our nations … a clear guarantee of the right to remain for citizens in both the UK and EU27 is needed within weeks.”
Meanwhile, the European parliament is preparing to formally censure the British government for discriminating against EU nationals since the Brexit vote.
A resolution by the parliament, to be voted on next Tuesday, says there is clear evidence that EU nationals are being unfairly treated in the UK and that Britons on the continent are also suffering.
“Recent administrative incidents have demonstrated that discrimination against citizens of the EU27 in the United Kingdom and UK citizens in the EU27 is already taking place and is having an impact on the daily lives of the citizens concerned, limiting the effective exercise of their rights,” the document says.
The resolution also attacks the British government’s handling of the Brexit negotiations and claims that in order for May to live up to her pledge that there will not be any physical infrastructure at the border in Ireland after Brexit, the province of Northern Ireland will have to stay in the customs union.
The parliament will have the right to veto any agreement between the EU and the UK. Barnier meets its Brexit steering committee almost weekly.
Across its nine pages there is scathing language in the resolution about Britain’s positions, including what it describes as a failure to provide concrete proposals on the financial settlement. The draft resolution says that “so far the absence of any clear proposals has seriously impeded the negotiations”.
The resolution further “notes” May’s request in her speech in Florence for a transition period after March 2019, but directly contradicts comments from Davis over the weekend by insisting that the UK will remain under EU law and the European court of justice.
“Such a transition can only happen on the basis of the existing European Union regulatory, budgetary, supervisory, judiciary, enforcement instruments and structures” and “can only be envisaged under the full jurisdiction of the court of justice of the European Union,” the resolution says.