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Michel Barnier bemoans lack of 'trust' between UK and EU as Brexit deadlock continues

Michel Barnier bemoans lack of 'trust' between UK and EU as Brexit deadlock continues
3 min read

Michel Barnier today torpedoed British hopes of kickstarting trade talks in the autumn, declaring that "sufficient progress" had not been made in the latest round of Brexit negotiations.

The EU's chief negotiator said there was a lack of "trust" between the two sides as he accused the UK of preparing to walk away from its financial obligations after it leaves the bloc.

In a tense press conference with Brexit Secretary David Davis, Mr Barnier also accused Britain of "nostalgia" by wanting to maintain the benefits of being in the single market and customs union without being members.

He said: "Maybe I’ve got the wrong end of the stick, maybe there is no nostalgia, but Brexit means Brexit. Leaving the single market means leaving the single market. If that is what has been decided, there will be consequences."

That prompted Mr Davis to hit back: "I wouldn’t confuse a belief in the free market for nostalgia."

Britain wants negotiations to move onto its future trading relationship with the EU at the next round of talks in October. But Brussels insists that agreement must first be reached on the UK's exit bill, the Irish border and citizens' rights.

Mr Barnier said some progress had been made on Ireland, but added: "We’re quite far from being able to say that sufficient progress has taken place, sufficient for me to be able to recommend to the European Council that we engage on the future relationship at the same time as we would during the course of 2018 go on in finalising the exit."

In an angry swipe at Britain's position on its multi-billion pound Brexit divorce bill, he said: "In July the UK recognised that it has obligations beyond the Brexit date, but this week the UK explained that its obligations will be limited to their last payment to the EU budget before departure.

"Yet we have joint obligations towards third countries. For example, we have guaranteed long-term loans to Ukraine together, we jointly support development in Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific countries through the European Development Fund. It is clear the UK does not feel legally obliged to honour these obligations after departure.

"We have also jointly committed to support innovative enterprises and green infrastructure in European regions until 2020 - these are not recognised by the UK as legal obligations. With such uncertainty how can we build trust and start discussing a future relationship? We need to address together these issues seriously and rigorously."

In response, Mr Davis admitted the four days of talks this week had been "high stress".

He also acknowledged that "there are significant differences to be bridged" on the UK's exit payment.

But he repeated his claim earlier in the week that with "imagination and flexibility" on the part of the EU, an agreement can be reached before Brexit happens at midnight on 29 March, 2019.

In response, Mr Barnier said: "The UK has made a commitment to find a way forward and we need to find a solution to do that. Flexibility, yes – what was it you actually said? I’ve forgotten the second word. Oh yes, imagination.

"Everything is possible when it comes to presentation, the spread of payments or whatever but we have to find a solution because I have to go back to the 27 (member states) with a clear answer – that’s my mandate. I have to reassure them first before we can go forward."

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