EU Brexit chief Barnier warns of trade talks delay: diplomats say

BRUSSELS

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has warned that the start of trade talks may be pushed back to December because Britain is stalling on its exit bill, diplomats said Thursday.

Barnier told EU diplomats there was growing uncertainty that talks on divorce issues would make “sufficient progress” by October to move on to negotiations on a future relationship as planned then, they said.

“Barnier and the envoys expressed doubts on achieving the informal October deadline for sufficient progress given the position of the UK on the financial bill,” a European diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“If October is missed, the next informal deadline would likely jump to December, the next EU summit,” the diplomat added.

EXIT BILL

Britain’s exit bill — put at 100 billion euros by European sources — has proved one of the biggest sticking points in the negotiations over its departure from the bloc, which is due in March 2019.

At the last round of talks earlier this month, Barnier demanded “clarity” from Britain over its position on the financial settlement needed to meet its obligations under the EU budget.

“Clarification of the United Kingdom’s position is essential to negotiate and achieve sufficient progress on the financial dossier,” Barnier said last week.

THREE ISSUES
EU leaders declared earlier this year there must be “sufficient progress” on the bill, the rights of European citizens living in Britain, and the border in Northern Ireland before talks can begin on a future EU-UK trade deal.

During the debrief with ambassadors from the remaining 27 countries, Barnier gave a “realistic” account of the state of play, another European source said.

“It cannot be a surprise to the UK that much more needs to be done by them to achieve the level of progress required by October,” the source said, adding that progress was needed on “all three” issues.

PROGRESS
European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva declined to discuss “internal” meetings, but said that Barnier had already said there had been “limited progress” in the Brexit talks.

President Jean-Claude Juncker had asked the Commission’s Brexit task force to be available “every day throughout the month of August to engage with our British counterparts, should the UK wish to substantiate their position in some of the cases where it has not happened yet,” she added.

TRANSITION

“The Commission stands ready, we are ready, we are ready to work. I cannot beyond that speculate on any timetable because that will depend on the pace of the progress being made.”

Reports in British newspapers said Thursday that London could agree to free movement of people during a Brexit transition period, in what would be a major concession to Brussels.

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