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Barnier Gives UK Ultimatum Over Brexit Progress

by Ulrika Lomas,, Brussels

13 November 2017

The UK must provide clarification on its position on the Brexit financial settlement within the next two weeks, the EU's chief negotiator has insisted.

Michel Barnier made the comments during a press conference on November 10, which followed the conclusion of the latest round of Brexit negotiations.

The EU has stipulated that "sufficient progress" must be made in three key areas before discussions can shift focus to the EU's future relationship with the UK. These areas are: citizens' rights; the so-called divorce bill, and issues relating to Ireland/Northern Ireland.

Barnier said that the EU is determined to reach a deal on the UK's orderly withdrawal, and that it is his team's "absolute priority" to do so ahead of the European Council's meeting on December 14-15. Barnier stressed that the three key areas are "inseparable" and that only "sincere and real progress" will allow the EU to open the second phase of negotiations.

The matter of the financial settlement continues to cause difficulties. Barnier said that the two sides must now "work on the precise translation of the commitments" made by UK Prime Minister Theresa May in her Florence speech in September. May said then that the UK "will honor commitments that we have made during the period of our membership."

Barnier emphasized that "this is an essential condition to reach sufficient progress in December," and that the issue is one of "settling the accounts."

On the question of citizens' rights, Barnier explained that some progress is being made, but that work must continue on a number of points. He reiterated that "the unique situation on the island of Ireland requires specific solutions."

The UK's Brexit Secretary, David Davis, told the press conference that "now is the time for both sides to move forward together to seek solutions." He added that if they are to "find a way forward it will require flexibility and pragmatism from both sides."

Davis argued that "both parties need to build confidence in the process and indeed in the shared outcome." He said that the UK is willing "to engage as often and as quickly as needed to secure this outcome over the weeks remaining ahead of the December European Council."

Davis said that, as regards the financial settlement, "substantial technical progress" has been made "across all the issues that will need to be addressed." He said that May had been clear in her Florence speech, and that the UK's "European partners will not need to pay more or receive less over the remainder of the current budget plan as a result of our decision to leave."

Over the weekend, Barnier told France's Journal du Dimanche newspaper that the EU wants to reach an agreement with the UK "within the next 14 days." However, he added that "Today, we are not there," and that the EU Council summit will be "postponed if progress is not sufficient."

Barnier also confirmed that, while it is not his preferred option, a "no deal" scenario is a possibility. He said: "Everyone needs to plan for it, member states and businesses alike. We too are making technical preparations for it. On March 29, 2018, the United Kingdom will become a third country."

TAGS: business | free trade agreement (FTA) | Ireland | export duty | budget | trade treaty | United Kingdom | agreements | France | import duty | trade | European Union (EU) | Europe

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