European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker lashed out at the U.K.’s Brexit position documents after British negotiators revealed a growing exasperation at what they see as the European Union’s stubbornness.
“I’ve read all the position papers produced by Her Majesty’s government and none of them is satisfactory,”Juncker said on Tuesday at a conference in Brussels, shortly before talks between the U.K. and the EU resume. “There is still an enormous amount of issues that remain to be settled.”
The stage had already been set for an intense round of negotiations after the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, and Brexit Secretary David Davis met on Monday for the first time since mid-July and candidly aired their frustration at each other’s approaches.
The U.K. has published 11 documents outlining its positions in areas that need to be settled as part of its withdrawal from the EU, ranging from data protection to nuclear safety and customs arrangements. While the U.K. hoped the papers would persuade the EU to deal with their future relationship at the same time as the most pressing separation issues, European diplomats criticized the documents for being unrealistic and failing to nail down what exactly the U.K. was asking for.
A plea for the EU to show flexibility and hurry talks along was immediately snubbed by Barnier, who accused Britain of a lack of clarity. The U.K. camp believes negotiations could progress if Barnier’s team didn’t follow its mandate to the letter.
“We must start negotiating seriously; we need U.K. papers that are clear in order to have constructive negotiations,” Barnier told reporters as he stood alongside Davis before their meeting on Monday. “The sooner we remove the ambiguity the sooner we will be able to be in a position to discuss the future relationship and a transitional period.”
With eight weeks to go until a key EU summit at which the bloc’s leaders will be asked to judge whether the negotiations have made “sufficient progress” to allow the U.K. to open trade discussions, the talks have made little headway on Britain’s financial settlement and plans for the Irish border. Officials will try to tackle both on Tuesday.
“There’s growing impatience in Brussels — for the moment it seems that U.K. decision-makers are busy arguing at home,” said Carsten Nickel, deputy director of research at Teneo Intelligence. “If the papers question the agreed sequencing, then what we’re actually seeing is a rolling back of progress achieved.”
The U.K.’s bill remains the biggest stumbling block to an agreement, with Davis determined not to tell the EU where it accepts it has obligations. This month he told the BBC that this was part of his negotiators’ “constructive ambiguity” approach to try to obtain a better deal.
Standing with Barnier, Davis told reporters that “the week ahead is about driving forward the technical discussions across all the issues. But in order to do that we’ll require flexibility and imagination from both sides.”
The U.K. doesn’t appear to have given up on exploiting potential rifts between the European Commission and the countries that give it its mandate. Davis at one point said some of the EU’s 27 government backed his demands. Earlier on Monday the French presidency denied a report in the Daily Telegraph that it was willing to take a softer stance on when trade talks could begin.
Neither the U.K. nor the EU is expecting much of a breakthrough this week even as both British and German business lobbies came together Monday to call for “clarity and certainty.” Davis will leave to his colleagues the task of making progress on how to keep the Irish border open after Brexit, the status of citizens living in each other’s countries and the infamous bill.
Without progress in these three areas, the EU is adamant that talks cannot move on to commerce. Pressure for a breakthrough has increased since the Labour party, which came close to unseating U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May in June’s election, announced it wants four-year transition arrangement to avoid a cliff edge.
That is a tempting proposition for anti-Brexit Conservatives who could shift allegiances and force May, who lost her majority in Parliament, to make concessions she otherwise would have resisted.
— With assistance by Emma Ross-Thomas, Emma Charlton, Rainer Buergin, Robert Hutton, Viktoria Dendrinou, and Jones Hayden
EU’s Juncker Slams UK’s Brexit Position Papers as Talks Resume – Bloomberg