Michel Barnier: Sufficient progress in Brexit talks could be months away
Michel Barnier has warned that it could be "months" before he is able to say that "sufficient progress" has been made in the Brexit talks.
The EU's chief negotiator gave the grim assessment despite claiming that Theresa May's speech in Florence last week had introduced a "new dynamic" into the discussions.
Mr Barnier has repeatedly insisted that more progress is needed in the areas of citizens' rights, the Irish border and the Brexit divorce bill before the negotiations can move onto the UK and EU's future trading relationship.
The Government had hoped that those talks could have been able to begin next month.
But at a press conference alongside Brexit Secretary David Davis at the end of the fourth round of discussions, Mr Barnier ruled that out.
"We have had a constructive week, yes, but we are not yet there in terms of achieving suiffocent progress. Further work is needed in the coming weeks and months," he said.
Mr Barnier added: "It's positive that Theresa May's speech made it possible to unblock the situation and give a new dynamic to the situation, but we're far from being at a stage - it will take weeks or maybe even months to say there's been sufficient progress on the principles of an orderly withdrawal.
"As soon as I can deem that there is real progress and report back to those that gave m,e the mandate I shall do so and then we will be able to move speedily to the next stage in the sequence."
In her speech last week, the Prime Minister said she backed a post-Brexit transition period of two years, during which the UK would continue paying into the EU budget in return for continued access to the single market.
She said that would ensure the remaining member states would not have to pay more, or receive less, immediately after Britain leaves.
Mr Barnier said that was a welcome development, but insisted more detail was needed on how much Britain would pay for ongoing commitments made while it is still an EU member.
He said: "The UK explained that it is not in a position yet to identify its commitments taken during membership. For the EU the only way to reach sufficient progress is that all commitments undertaken at 28 are honoured by 28."
A deal on the rights of EU citizens living in the UK after Brexit has inched closer this week, but Mr Barnier said a "stumbling block" remained over Britain's refusal to allow the European Court to have any role in enforcing any agreement.
David Davis said real progress had been made during the "vital round of negotiations".
He said: "I believe that thanks to the constructive and determined manner with which both sides have conducted these negotiations we are making decisive steps forward.
"After four rounds, when I look across the full range of issues to do with our withdrawal from the EU, I am clear that we have made considerable progress on the issues that matter."