After the third formal round of Brexit talks, the EU’s chief negotiator said Thursday there had been no progress on major issues and raised the prospect that time would run out to reach an orderly withdrawal.
“We did not get any decisive progress on any of the principal subjects,” the EU’s Michel Barnier said, though he added there had been “fruitful” discussions on issues including the Northern Irish border.
And Barnier said that at the current juncture, the two sides remained far from achieving the European Council’s goal of “sufficient progress” on divorce terms by October.
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Barnier said: “At the current state of progress, we are quite far from being able to say that sufficient progress has taken place, sufficient for me to recommend to the European Council that it engage in discussions on the future relationship.”
The U.K.’s top negotiator, David Davis, offered a more upbeat assessment but nonetheless acknowledged that progress was minimal, and he conceded that there was a sharp divide over the financial settlement.
“The Commission set out its position,” Davis said of the financial settlement issues, “and we have a duty to our taxpayers to interrogate it rigorously … It’s fair to say we have a very different legal stance.”
Noting that negotiators had previously warned there would not be incremental progress in every negotiating round, Davis said, “I think this round demonstrates that” but he also added: “I think we succeeded in building mutual understanding, but I think it’s also clear there are significant differences to be bridged.”
Davis repeated his appeal for more “flexibility” from the EU negotiating team, but Barnier was blunt in his assessment of the position papers published by the U.K. in the run up to the talks. “The U.K. wants to take back control, it wants to adopt its own standards and regulations but it also wants to have these standards recognized automatically in the EU. That is what the U.K. papers ask for. This is simply impossible,” he said.
The EU chief negotiator suggested there was a “nostalgia” in the U.K. for the benefits of EU membership even as the country was on the verge of leaving. “Perhaps now is the time [in the U.K.] to explain what being a member of the European Union and the single market entails,” he said.
Davis shot back: “I wouldn’t confuse a belief in the free market for nostalgia.”