David Davis, the Brexit secretary, has heaped pressure on European Union leaders to grant Michel Barnier the flexibility to begin talks over EU-UK trade and a possible transition deal at crunch summit in Brussels next week.
Mr Barnier was given a mandate by the 27 heads of state and government to helm the Brexit talks on their behalf but it restricts him from discussing the future relationship until the EU judges that sufficient progress has been made on the issues of the so called Brexit bill, citizens rights and Ireland.
Barnier criticises ‘very disturbing deadlock’ in Brexit negotiations Talks are deadlocked after five rounds of pressured negotiations with huge divisions between the two camps, especially over the so-called Brexit bill, despite Theresa May’s offering to pay 20 billion euro (£17bn) to the EU budget in her Florence speech.
The Telegraph understands that Mr Barnier, as well as suggesting a looser mandate to enable him to discuss the terms of a transition deal, also suggested a deal to member states over citizens’ rights – but the idea was rejected last week by France, Germany and others.
Instead EU sources insist it will not conclude a deal on citizens’ rights until the UK specifies which budget commitments it will honour, particularly on EU pensions and future loan liabilities.
A deal could be done tomorrow on citizens’ rights but EU member states are just choosing not to fully engage, the source added.
With time running out to strike a deal before the two-year negotiation period elapses, the prospect of a catastrophic no deal is looming. British Prime Minister Theresa May revealed this week that the UK was already making contingency plans in case an agreement is not finalised before 29 March 2019.
No deal would be a very bad deal. To be clear on our side we will be ready to face any eventualities and all the eventualities, Mr Barnier said.
I make no secret of the fact that to provide certainty, we must talks about the future, Mr Davis, the Brexit secretary told reporters. I hope the leaders of the 27 will provide Michel with the means to explore ways forward with us on that.
There is no guarantee that EU leaders will heed Mr Davis’ call, and stick to the stance that any trade talks must be delayed until the second phase of negotiations.
Mr Barnier said he could not tell EU leaders that the sufficient progress test had been met at the European Council summit on 19-20 October.
A pro-EU protester sits in the front row of the press conference before being escorted out
But he hinted strongly that he would ask reluctant EU governments, including Germany, to expand his mandate. While that is unlikely to include full free trade negotiations, it could allow scoping of the future relationship and the transition deal, that would push back Brexit until 2021.
We are in deadlock at the moment, he said at the European Commission’s Berlaymont headquarters, But with the necessary will and commitments entered into by Theresa May from Florence we can exit this deadlock.
Slowly but surely, I will explore ways of getting out of this deadlock we find ourselves in.
Mr Barnier described the impasse as disturbing but he insisted that there was no question the EU would make concessions on the financial settlement, Ireland or citizens’ rights.
Mr Barnier said he hoped to make “decisive progress” before December’s European Council, which has now been targeted for the sufficient progress test.
Sources close to the negotiations said the EU had also refused to engage on voting rights after Brexit, and that only incremental steps had been taken on the issue of whether family members should be able to join EU citizens in the UK.
Asked why the EU was refusing to engage with the constructive British approach, Mr Barnier cited his restrictive mandate from the EU members states. [We are] willing to discuss it at the appropriate time, but that time has not yet come, he said.
UK sources also reject the EU’s counter assertion that, by refusing to specify which financial commitments the UK will honour, Britain is itself not engaging on the financial settlement.
British negotiators point the fact that Mrs May promised €20bn in Florence to ensure that no EU member state would pay more, or receive less, in the current budget cycle that ends in 2020.
The PM made a very generous offer in Florence, which addressed a legitimate EU concern, but any final settlement cannot be agreed without reference to the future trading relationship.
The press conference was brightened by the appearance of a British anti-Brexit campaigner dressed as EU Supergirl.
Madeleina Kay, 22, from Sheffield, was in Brussels for an EU event on cities and regions and used her pass for the event to get into the press conference, to the bewilderment and surprise of British officials and undisguised glee of European journalists.
She will soon release an album called Rage Against the Brexit Machine, which includes songs called No Jeremy Corbyn and Pants to Brexit.