EU, Britain fail to agree Brexit talks start date

A European Union flag during a demonstration against Brexit outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, 29 March 2017. [Andy Rain / EPA]

Top EU and British figures held “talks about talks” on Brexit Monday (12 June) but failed to nail down a date for the start of negotiations amid the fallout from Britain’s chaotic election, officials said.

The two-year negotiation process between EU Brexit chief Michel Barnier and Britain’s Brexit minister David Davis had been due to formally start on June 19.

But that looks increasingly unlikely as Conservative British Prime Minister Theresa May fights for her political life after unexpectedly losing her majority in parliament.

In Brussels on Monday Barnier met Olly Robbins, a senior official in Davis’s ministry, and Britain’s ambassador to the EU Tim Barrow to discuss arrangements for the talks following the election shock.

“They agreed to have further contact at technical level this week. As of yet, no date for opening the negotiations has been agreed,” an EU official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“The EU stands ready to begin negotiations.”

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Moving beyond ‘talking about talks’

The arrangements under discussion include dates and the sequencing of talks – the EU wants four-week cycles of negotiations, each covering one topic – once they do actually get started.

European Commission spokesman Alexander Winterstein earlier declined to provide a likely start date.

“When will be the point from moving to talking about talks, to more detailed talks, I cannot say. This doesn’t depend entirely on us,” Winterstein told a daily briefing.

Brussels has warned that time is running out to start the talks on divorce terms and a future trade deal, with Britain set to leave the EU come what may in March 2019.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said last Friday that Brussels would be ready “at half past nine” the next morning if Britain was ready.

London has said it wants the Barnier-Davis talks to start as scheduled next Monday, but since Thursday’s election it has not formally committed to the date.

Davis told BBC radio on Monday that the government stood by its threat to “walk away” with no deal if talks – when they do eventually start – break down.

May’s catastrophic showing in Thursday’s election has caused consternation in the EU, which is keen to push through the disruptive Brexit process as soon as possible.

“Obviously it’s not great that things are being delayed,” an EU source said on condition of anonymity, adding that Brussels officials had been “glued to their TV screens and Twitter” for the British election results.

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