Britain and the EU opened another round of slow-moving divorce talks on Thursday (9 November) amid growing signs that a decision to start discussions on post-Brexit trade and customs ties, which London wants to tackle as soon as possible, could be postponed until next year.
The three stumbling blocks that need to be resolved before hammering out new trade relations are the size of the Brexit bill the UK needs to foot, the rights of expatriates in the EU and UK, and Ireland’s border with Northern Ireland, the 27-bloc’s new external frontier as of March 2019.
— Michel Barnier (@MichelBarnier) November 8, 2017
Both sides were hoping to make enough progress in time for an EU Council summit in December to declare that conditions were met to launch the second phase of talks, zooming in on a transition deal and the subsequent post-Brexit arrangements.
But EU envoys who met in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss Brexit said they were increasingly concerned that Britain may fail to meet EU conditions next month.
One EU official familiar with the discussions told Reuters that the British negotiators “should not think they are sailing ahead into the next phase”.
“While the transition and future relationship were formally on the agenda, what ambassadors focused very much on was real concern that the UK does not realize that the EU27 are deadly serious about the need to meet the ‘sufficient progress’ mark on the three first-phase issues.”
Ahead of the new round of two days of talks, Britain published more details on the proposed new status for EU citizens in the UK, offering “further reassurance for EU citizens and their family members”.
“The last negotiation round saw real progress in this area and I hope the document we have published today can facilitate the deal we need to guarantee the rights of UK citizens living in the EU27, and vice versa,” said London’s chief Brexit negotiator, David Davies.
But the European Parliament’s point man for the issue, Guy Verhofstadt, cast doubts on prospects for a quick EU-UK deal on citizens.
Progress towards a #Brexit deal on citizen's rights remains inadequate. Citizens were promised nothing would change. UK gov't now needs 25 paragraphs to explain how lives will change. Unacceptable! Full statement: https://t.co/HMpIT4kOoo
— Guy Verhofstadt (@GuyVerhofstadt) November 8, 2017
“We don’t recognise reports suggesting that a deal on citizens’ rights is almost finalised. There are still major issues that have to be resolved,” Verhofstadt said. Any deal that will be reached in the negotiations will have to be approved by the European Parliament.
Failure to move on with the talks in December is likely to put more pressure on British Prime Minister Theresa May. She is already under fire from hardline Tories and other Brexit backers who have urged her to drop the talks and walk away without a deal – a prospect that is scaring businesses on both sides of the Channel.