Monday 22 January 2018

Acknowledgment of complexities - Things appear friendlier between EU negotiator Barnier and UK Brexit Secretary

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, right, and British Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis leave after a media conference at EU headquarters
EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, right, and British Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis leave after a media conference at EU headquarters

Shona Murray

After four rounds of difficult Brexit talks, relations between lead EU negotiator Michel Barnier and UK Brexit Secretary David Davis appear more convivial than in recent months.

However, at their press conference in Brussels yesterday, there was little to announce by way of substance in key areas which would allow both sides move to Phase Two of Brexit which will explore an EU-UK trade agreement. 

“We’re very slowly starting to see that there’s a bit of a reality check" and an "acknowledgment of the complexities” of leaving the EU, a senior Irish official in Brussels told Irish Independent. 

Our “aim” right now is to “preserve the Common Travel Area and The Good Friday Agreement in all of its aspects”, said the Irish government official.

But the EU and UK are yet to agree on the practicalities of this and “more work and clarity is needed” from the UK, the official said on condition of anonymity.

Mr Barnier noted that discussions about avoiding a hard border between the north and south of Ireland had been “constructive”, as both sides wish to preserve status quo, as well as protect the Good Friday Agreement.

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier
EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier

Read More: Brexit transition period could last up to four years - Coveney

On Monday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told UK Prime Minister Theresa May that a “simple solution” to this matter would be that the UK remains within the EU customs union.

However a source from the UK government confirmed to the Irish Independent that while Britain remains committed to avoiding any physical border “the government’s position is that we are leaving the customs union.”

“Our belief is that we ‘have’ made significant progress and we’d like to move on”, said the official, and “it’s difficult to see what the border will look like without knowing what the future trading relationship is”, they told the Irish Independent.

Other areas of impasse relate to the other two outstanding issues involving the so-called "divorce bill" - the UK’s financial obligations to EU programmes and other commitments over Britain’s 44-year membership, and the rights of EU citizens living in the UK.

In her landmark speech in Florence last Friday, Theresa May appeared to move forward on the financial settlement issue by saying “no member state should pay more; and no member state should receive less because of Brexit."

But according to Mr. Barnier, talks are stuck on the fact that Britain is not able to “identify” its commitments “taken during membership.”

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, right, and British Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis address a media conference
EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, right, and British Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis address a media conference

Yesterday’s more optimistic tone was likely influenced by Theresa May’s speech in Florence, which Barnier, said brought a “new dynamic.”

However he pointed to another difficult "stumbling block", being Britain's refusal to accept the role of the European Court of Justice in ensuring the rights of EU citizens living in the UK after it leaves the union.

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