Brexit negotiators remain at odds over UK's financial settlement
The chief Brexit negotiators disagreed on Thursday about the financial settlement the UK will have to pay when it leaves the European Union, expected to happen in March 2019.
The costs stem from a seven-year funding agreement among the current 28 EU member states to fund such things as infrastructure projects and work being carried out at laboratories or universities. That was signed by David Cameron who resigned as British Prime Minister last year. He was succeeded by current premier Theresa May.
"Commitments have been entered into by 28. They should not be met by 27. That would not be fair," the EU's representative Michel Barnier told a news conference today. "We want the UK government to look again at the legal arguments."
Barnier said he is "disappointed" that the British government appears to be "backtracking" on its commitments.
Britons voted in a referendum on June 23, 2016 to leave the EU. Premier May triggered article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty in March 2017, which set off the two-year negotiation process to complete talks with the bloc about the terms of the withdrawal.
Speaking to parliament today in London, Barnier's opposite number David Davis disputed the EU's position.
"At the moment the European negotiating team is stressing our legal obligation and we will challenge that."
The financial settlement -- along with citizens' rights and agreement over Northern Ireland's border with the Republic which will become the only UK/EU land frontier -- is central to concluding the first phase of talks. Britain wants to push ahead and start talks on trade and other aspects of the post-Brexit relationship.
EU leaders will decide in October if "sufficient progress" has been made for the talks to move on to where the UK wants to take them. If not, then a decision may not come until December, leaving just over a year to work out a complex trade deal.
"We can't say yet that we have made sufficient progress," Barnier said.
The EU released five Brexit position papers on Thursday, covering Northern Ireland, data protection, intellectual property rights, public procurement and customs.
On Northern Ireland, the EU chose not to offer any solutions because the "onus" is on the UK to provide them.
"It is the responsibility of the United Kingdom," the bloc said in the paper. "These challenges will require a unique solution."
That may result in two separate Brexit deals, one covering the UK's withdrawal from the EU and another dealing with Northern Ireland.
The Irish border runs for about 500 kilometres and is crossed by tens of thousands of people each day. Trade between the UK and Ireland was worth €19.9 billion in 2015, according to the British Irish Chamber of Commerce's website.
The UK has already said it wants no 'hard' customs border, meaning there would be no border posts or passport controls for Irish and British citizens travelling within the Common Travel Area that provides for easy travel between the UK, Ireland, the Channel Islands and Isle of Man.
"On the question of Ireland there is no stalemate. In the first round we saw fruitful discussion which will continue" the EU's Barnier said. "We have not reached sufficient progress in terms of points on the Good Friday Agreement and Common Travel Area."
The UK has already said support for the 1998 Good Friday Agreement -- which set the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and brought the province's Troubles to an end after 30 years of armed conflict --should be written into the Brexit agreement.
(Alistair Holloway, firstname.lastname@example.org, +352 49 93 739)