Brexit talks yielded no breakthrough on the financial settlement, and discussions focused on the issue of citizens’ rights, where the two sides are hoping for progress, an EU official told reporters.
Bloomberg notes that the anonymous official added that no breakthrough was expected on the bill, as that would require high-level political input, and as Citi notes, this meeting was meant to be more of a discussion anyway, with no expectations of an overall proposal being finalized.
The EU is piling the pressure on the UK to agree the divorce settlement as Brexit negotiations resumed in Brussels. In EU parlance, it appears that the term for this is the “moment of clarification”, which only makes us despise EU bureaucrats even more. Our suspicion is that, with the UK keen to settle the money issue and move on to trade talks, the EU sees an opportunity to take advantage of political turmoil in the UK, as the talks reaching their most critical stage. According to AFP.
The European Union on Thursday warned Britain to reach a divorce deal by the end of the month to guarantee moving to trade negotiations, as Brexit talks resumed in Brussels. Fears are growing in Brussels that the chaotic political situation in London after Prime Minister Theresa May suffered a string of ministerial resignations will hamper the chances of reaching a deal on key issues, especially Britain's contentious exit bill. EU leaders had hoped to officially approve the next phase on future relations and a transition period at a summit in December, but officials are increasingly concerned that deadline could slip to February or March.
"Time is pressing," chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier said in a speech in Rome on Thursday before flying back to Brussels to start the sixth round of the slow-moving talks. "The European Council summit in October wanted to keep up the dynamic of the negotiations and I am of the same state of mind," Barnier said. "But the real moment of clarification is coming."
Adding to the pressure is that this round of talks is confined to two days, rather than the normal four. Barnier and Britain’s Brexit Secretary, David Davis, will only meet on Friday morning, after which they will hold a press conference. As we’ve said on numerous occasions, the EU is believed to be demanding 60 billion Euros compared to the UK’s offer of about 40 billion Euros. However, earlier this month, Davis appeared to signal that the UK would increase its offer – see “UK Will Compromise On Divorce Bill To Accelerate Brexit Negotiations” here).
In the last two weeks, Prime Minister, Theresa May’s tenuous grip on power has been further undermined by the resignation of two ministers in her cabinet.
- Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, resigned amid the ongoing sexual harassment scandal in Westminster; and
- International Development Secretary, Priti Patel, resigned over unauthorized meetings in Israel.
AFP alludes to weakness in the UK’s bargaining position given the latest scandals…
To move on to trade talks, the EU is demanding sufficient progress on three key divorce issues, above all the bill Britain must pay to cover its budgetary commitments, a figure which senior European officials put at 60 billion euros ($70 billion). They also want commitments on keeping an open border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and on guaranteeing the rights of three million European citizens living in Britain. But the British government looks increasingly distracted, with the resignation of its aid minister over meetings in Israel on Wednesday adding to the sense of chaos since May's disastrous showing in elections earlier this year.
…and we suspect that this is what Barnier (with the guiding hand of the odious Jean-Claude Juncker) is hoping to turn to his advantage. Coincidentally, an anonymous EU source was able to provide AFP with some cryptic comments – although it wasn’t hard to see what he/she was getting at.
"We are a bit concerned about what we are seeing in the UK at the moment, we want a strong negotiating partner," an EU diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity. "I see a strong willingness to come to a deal. I am confident that everybody understands what has to be done on both sides. The question is, Do they have the strength? And will the moves be made in time by the end of November, first week of December?
Bloomberg appears to have picked up a similar downbeat briefing from EU officials.
Brexit talks resumed Thursday with no indication that a breakthrough is in reach: the Europeans are taking a cautious approach even as both sides hope for an agreement by year-end. European diplomats in Brussels are concerned about the U.K.’s political crisis, and are trying to avoid sending Britain overly encouraging signals about how talks are progressing, according to a person familiar with the situation. Countries including Germany asked negotiators on Wednesday not to rush into preparing documents for trade talks, to avoid creating the impression that negotiations are moving on, the person said…EU diplomats have begun work on two versions of draft summit conclusions for the December gathering -- one for the possibility of a breakthrough and another one for continuing stalemate. The Times reported on Thursday that leaders are also preparing for the possibility of May’s downfall.
It was probably another coincidence that Juncker’s European Commission today cut its forecasts for UK economic growth for 2017-19 on Brexit uncertainty, while raising its forecast for Eurozone growth. From The Guardian.
Newsflash: The European Commission has slashed its forecast for UK growth, warning that Brexit uncertainty will hurt business investment. It now expects Britain’s economy to grow by just 1.5% this year, down from 1.8% previously. The EC also predicts that growth will slow to 1.3% next year, and just 1.1% in 2019…Having slashed the UK’s growth forecasts, the EC has also raised its forecasts for the eurozone. The Commission now believes that eurozone countries will expand by 2.2% this year, up from the 1.7% forecast earlier this year.
As the talks progress, the clock is counting down to next month’s EU summit for the Brexit settlement to be finalized. As AFP’s anonymous source explains, the EU is ready to move the talks forward as long as it likes the “colour” of the UK’s money – otherwise, we suspect, banks and other businesses will go apoplectic about the risk of a “hard Brexit”.
That timescale would allow preparations for a formal decision by EU leaders at a summit on December 14-15 to move on to discussing future ties, a step Britain has been pushing for for months. "Everything is ready (to start trade talks) on the first of January," the EU diplomat said. Failure to do so would probably push back the move to one of the next summits in February or March, leaving only around six months to reach a deal by October 2018, the timeline Barnier has set in order for the withdrawal agreement to be ratified by Brexit day in March 2019. The EU says Britain must provide written guarantees of a pledge to honour the financial commitments that May made in a speech in Florence, Italy, in September. "We don't need speeches, we need commitments," the diplomat said.
There’s nothing like kicking a woman, Theresa May, when she’s down, but what else would you expect from Juncker and his cronies.