BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Britain’s exit negotiations with the European Union this week failed to make the kind of progress needed to open talks on their future relationship in October, the bloc’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said on Thursday.
However, British Brexit minister David Davis said, the two sides had made “some concrete progress” and there was “high degree of convergence” on the future border with Ireland.
Britain would “rigorously” question how much it had to pay the EU when it leaves, Davis said. However, London may consider paying more than the bare legal minimum given its desire for a future partnership with the bloc, he said.
“We are a country that meets its international obligations and will continue to do so, but those obligations have to be well specified and they have to be real,” Davis told a news conference. “They don’t necessarily have to be legal. We also recognize moral obligations sometimes.”
The EU has said that talks on the future relationship can only start after the other 27 EU governments are satisfied that “sufficient progress” has been made on the terms of Britain’s departure. It is due to leave the union, deal or no deal, in late March 2019.
That gives the two sides less than two years to reach a deal and ratify it. The alternative is a scenario in which Britain crashes out from the EU with little legal clarity for the businesses and citizens affected.
Barnier told reporters after talks in Brussels the two sides managed to agree on some technical clarifications and recognized that discussions on the Ireland border had been “fruitful”, but no decisive progress had been made on the main subjects.
“We are quite far from being able to say that sufficient progress has taken place, sufficient for me to be able to recommend to the European Council that it engage in discussions on the future relationship between the UK and EU.”
Barnier scolded London for demanding “the impossible” in position papers released last week, including having a say on the EU’s single-market rules even after it’s outside the union.
He said Britain still rejected the EU’s demand that the European Court of Justice police the enforcement of the rights of EU citizens living in Britain after Brexit.
Beyond safeguarding expatriate rights, the other priority areas for the EU are the future border between the United Kingdom’s province of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member, and agreeing an exit bill.
“Our discussions this week have exposed yet again that UK’s approach is substantially more flexible and pragmatic than that of the EU,” Davis said.
“I remain of the view there is an unavoidable overlap between withdrawal and the future and they cannot be neatly compartmentalized,” he said, reiterating London’s stance that talks on splitting from the EU and forging a new relationship should largely run in parallel.
Barrier said he and Davis remained far apart on what Britain should pay on departure to account for previous commitments.
“In July, the UK recognized that it has (financial) obligations beyond the Brexit date,” Barnier said. “But this week the UK explained that its obligations will be limited to their last payment to the EU budget before their departure.”
Britain, he said, did not feel legally obliged to honor joint obligations such as long-term loans to Ukraine, development funds for Africa and Pacific countries and green initiatives.
The bloc has previously floated a sum of around 60 billion euros ($71 billion), which Britain has dismissed.
“We have a duty to our taxpayers to interrogate it rigorously,” Davis said.
Additional reporting by Jan Strupczewski and Philip Blenkinsop, writing by Gabriela Baczynska, editing by Larry King