After the first meeting on Monday, a joint press conference was held with Michel Barnier, the EU’s Brexit negotiator and David Davis, the British minister for the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU).
Barnier started off by saying he was concerned and that time was moving quickly. He stated that:
“We need UK positions on all separation issues. This is necessary to make sufficient progress.”
This was widely interpreted to refer to the fact that there has been no position paper on the financial settlement. Indeed, the UK government seems to have backtracked on whether the UK has any financial obligations at all towards the EU, and on the method and amount to calculate this financial obligation, liabilities and whether the UK should pay into the EU budget until 2020, when the current multiannual budgetary framework runs out. The amount is rumoured to be between €60 billion and €100 billion.
Barnier continued his stern assessment:
“We must start negotiating seriously. We need UK papers that are clear in order to have constructive negotiations. And the sooner we remove the ambiguity the sooner we will be in a position to discuss the future relationship and a transitional period.”
Nevertheless, Barnier indicated his willingness to hold talks more often.
David Davis insisted meanwhile that:
“for the United Kingdom, the week ahead is about driving forward the technical discussion ahead across all the issues. We want to lock in the points where we agree, unpick the areas where we disagree and make further progress on the whole range of issues. In order to do that we require flexibility and imagination from both sides.”
“I have read with great attention all the published papers produced by Her Majesty’s government; none of them really satisfies me, so there very many questions to be answered. (…) It must be very clear that we will not start any negotiation on the following events—I mean by that on the new relations, especially economic and trade relations, between the UK and the EU before all the questions, relating to Article 50 and hence on the divorce between the EU and the UK. We cannot mix apples and pears, I know that there are partial intersections between the two dimensions, but the European Council, following the proposal by the commission, has been very clear: first sort out the past before looking to the future.”
Financial settlement discord
On Wednesday 30 August, the negotiations on the financial settlement did not go well. According to The Guardian, the UK government was increasingly frustrated with the EU’s attitude: “the current view around town that ‘serious’ means agreeing with the commission. The UK doesn’t agree with it.”
David Davis said in the press conference on Thursday 31 August that his team had presented a legal analysis on budget issues and the European Investment Bank and that it was “fair to say we have a very different legal stance.” He added that “the settlement should be in accordance with the law and in spirit of the continued the UK’s continued partnership with the EU.”
Michel Barnier stated the EU position was that “EU taxpayers should not pay at 27 the obligations undertaken at 28. It would not be fair.” He argued that, while the British government had recognised it had financial obligations beyond the Brexit date, this week it explained that its obligations will be limited to the last payment to the budget before departure. He mentioned joint loans, such as those to the Ukraine and other third countries through the European development fund, and that “after this week, it is clear that the UK does not feel legally obliged to honour its obligations after departure.”
Progress on citizens’ rights
Both Brexit negotiators noted some agreements, such as those on keeping existing healthcare rights, the status of cross-border workers, mutual recognition of qualifications and the aggregation of social security rights, and current proceedings at the European Court of Justice. Davis also noted that UK citizens would still have the right to establish businesses in their country of residence, and vice versa.
Ireland and Northern Ireland border
The discussions on the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland had made “real progress”, according to Barnier, on the basis of the UK Ireland paper, on the common travel area and the continuance of the Good Friday agreement.
Davis added that there had been “almost complete agreement on post-exit privileges and immunities” and on the shared approach to confidentiality requirements. There had also been progress on Euratom, the nuclear cooperation agency.
UK more “flexible”
While Barnier reminded the terms of his mandate at length, Davis argued that his government’s approach to the negotiations was considerably more flexible and pragmatic that the EU’s. He emphasised yet again that “there was unavoidable overlap between the future and current relations.”
Single Market rules
Barnier insisted that his mandate had been set by the 27 member states of the European Council, and that he had the “total confidence” of the European Commissionpresident, adding that he worked closely with the European parliament. “That is what I scrupulously implement,” Barnier said, emphasising his clear and precise mandate on sequencing, and that he had the mandate to negotiate a transition phase, should the UK ask for it.
His guidelines were to protect the legal order and integrity of the single market. Barnier explained that:
“the UK government decided to leave the single market and the customs union. We respect their sovereign decision. The single market, the European capacity to regulate, supervise and enforce our laws must not and will not be undermined by Brexit. (…) EU council guidelines state that the union will preserve its autonomy of decision-making. The UK wants to take back control, wants to adopt its own standards and regulations, but also wants these standards to be automatically recognised in the EU. That’s what the UK papers ask for, but that is simply impossible. You cannot be outside its single market and shape its legal order.”
Barnier added that the uncertainty on the financial settlement affected the trust of the EU in the UK, and wondered how they could start discussing, in such an uncertain climate, a future relationship, but finished with the offer that negotiations could be scheduled more frequently.