UK warned time is running out for Brexit deal in hostile start to talks
A third round of Brexit talks got off to a difficult start yesterday after the EU accused the UK of "ambiguity" in its positions, and warned London that the time needed to do a deal was running out.
The talks descended into open hostility after Britain responded by accusing the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier of making an "ill-judged and unhelpful" attack on the UK.
Mr Barnier told reporters in Brussels: "To be honest, I'm concerned. Time passes quickly, We need UK positions on all separation issues. This is necessary to make sufficient progress. We must start negotiating seriously."
The EU has said that "sufficient progress" has to be made on a divorce deal - particularly its top three priorities of citizens' rights, the Irish Border and the UK's budget obligations - before the talks can move on to trade, which negotiators had initially hoped to do by October.
But that deadline is now looking increasingly difficult to meet, given the widening gap between the two sides over money, the sequencing of trade talks and also the role of the European Court of Justice.
While it has released papers on citizens and Ireland, the UK has refused to publish a position paper on money.
It is sticking to a strategy of what officials have called "constructive ambiguity" in the hope that it will be able to gain some bargaining power in future trade talks and over a transition deal.
However, Mr Barnier rejected the approach yesterday.
His pointed comments augur badly for the next three days of the talks that are being held in Brussels.
A senior source on the British side attacked Mr Barnier's position as "inconsistent, ill-judged, ill-considered and unhelpful for the next round of negotiations".
Talks on Ireland are set to take place tomorrow between the EU and UK deputy chief negotiators. But no major breakthroughs are expected.
Ireland's EU ambassador Declan Kelleher met with the commission's Brexit task force yesterday, ahead of the opening of the talks.
Senior EU officials last week slammed the UK's recent position paper on Ireland.
They said that it smacked of "magical thinking", and they have accused London of using the Northern Irish peace process as a bargaining chip in the talks.
Foreign Minister Simon Coveney told RTÉ radio yesterday that the EU needed to put the British government "under pressure" in order to solve the Irish issues.
UK Brexit Secretary David Davis hit back at the criticism while in Brussels.
He insisted that the position papers were "the products of hard work and detailed thinking".
He has also called for "flexibility and imagination on both sides", mirroring language that some of the European Union leaders had earlier used in their negotiating guidelines on Ireland.
"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," Mr Davis told reporters.
"But in order to do that we require flexibility and imagination from both sides, like the European Council asked for on some subjects."
He said that he hopes it will be possible to "agree a deal that works in the best interests of both the European Union and the United Kingdom, and people and businesses right across Europe".
There are no major breakthroughs expected during this round of the ongoing talks in Brussels.
Officials have insisted that the talks will be purely "technical" and a time for "clarification".