Brexit24

Michel Barnier: No whistling, just the clock ticking

The clock’s ticking and the EU (along with the rest of us) is still wondering what the government’s position is on Brexit.


The view from the EU put succinctly by its chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier is the clock is ticking. In a press conference in Brussels, Barnier said the EU has now published nine position papers for Brexit negotiations but was still waiting for the UK’s position on each. The EU have published position papers on issues including citizens’ rights and the financial settlement amongst other issues with regard to the UK’s withdrawal.

He explained that it was important the UK provided its positions as soon as possible so the two sides could see where they agreed and where they differed. From there, they could begin to “negotiate in earnest”.

So far, the UK has only published its position on citizens’ rights to which Barnier said would “not enable those persons concerned to live their lives as they do today”. He said the EU wanted EU citizens in the UK to have the same rights as British citizens in the EU but the paper put forward by Theresa May’s government doesn’t allow for that. The British position would effectively mean a weakening of rights for EU citizens in the UK despite it giving them many of the same rights as British citizens in the UK. This is because EU rights go further. So if reciprocal, the British position would also mean that Brits in the EU would see their rights weakened too.

EU citizens in the UK still in the dark about cost of ‘settled status’

On the financial settlement, Barnier stated again that it was not an “exit bill” or a “ransom” but simply about “settling accounts”. The financial settlement along with citizens’ rights and the border in Ireland are key issues the EU wants to see progress made before moving onto negotiations about a future trade deal.

When asked about what the EU wanted to see from the UK in relation to their financial obligations, Barnier said they wanted to build a new relationship with Britain but that this needs trust to work. He added this meant providing security to the 4-plus million affected citizens about their status post-Brexit and also about settling accounts. The EU chief negotiator explained that as an EU member, the UK made commitments and thousands of programmes depend on these commitments. He further said the UK would not be asked to pay “a single euro” more than it has committed to paying.

In reference to comments made by Foreign secretary Boris Johnson that the EU could “go whistle” if they expected the UK to pay the “extortionate” sums he had seen proposed over a financial settlement, one journalist asked if Barnier could whistle a tune. He said that he didn’t want to make a comment but added “I am not hearing any whistling, just a clock ticking”.

The government has already accepted that it has obligations that it will abide by with regard to a financial settlement. However, it has yet to provide a detailed position on what this means. You can see the EU’s position paper on the financial settlement alongside all its other position papers at ec.europa.eu.

The government may well be publishing its position paper on the financial settlement shortly. In the Guardian’s live politics blog yesterday, Brexit secretary David Davis told a House of Lords EU select committee the government may publish its own proposal regarding the financial settlement later this week. And BBC News’ Laura Kuenssberg reported she has been told the UK will publish three position papers including one on Euratom tomorrow. We’ll have to see if they include Davis’ paper on a financial settlement.

One of the many remarkable things of all this, of course, is that whilst it’s the UK who has made the decision to leave, it is the UK that is holding back on what it expects leaving will look like.

Barnier also noted that he was due to meet with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as well as meetings with Scotland first minister Nicola Sturgeon and Wales first minister Carwyn Jones.

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