The second round of Brexit negotiations, which began on Monday, concluded today with a press conference that failed to provide sufficient results on mutual concerns. It wasn’t all black, however, since both Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, and David Davis, the UK’s Brexit Secretary, struck a conciliatory tone, albeit, without sounding overtly optimistic. Barnier clarified that the first round was about “organisation,” the second round about “presentation” and the third round would need to be about “clarification.”

The EU stated that, unless there is more clarification on the financial settlement, EU citizens’ rights and on Ireland, as well as other separation issues, the talks won’t be able to move on to future trading agreements, which is the UK’s priority. The EU remains clear about its position on the rights of citizens being guaranteed by the European Court of Justice, something that the UK government disagrees with. 

Davis was more positive and described the talks as “robust” and “constructive”: "We have had robust but constructive talks this week. Clearly there's a lot left to talk about and further work before we can resolve this. Ultimately getting to a solution will require flexibility from both sides." He was hopeful that Britain “could make it work,” and that "Nobody expects a punishment deal. Michel and I are going for a good deal."

Barnier and Davis: What they said

Michel Barnier and David Davis spoke at the end of the second week of the negotiations, offering their “divergent” thoughts on the discussions. Barnier demanded more clarity from the UK on the exit bill and on citizens’ rights and highlighted the fundamental differences that remain between the EU and the UK after the four days of talks. 

1. Exit Bill

Barnier said: "I know one has to compromise in negotiations but we are not there yet. When I say, and I think I was very clear and transparent about that, that there are things that are inseparable from others. That's the financial settlement, let's be very clear. We want clarity on that because we need to be able work more until we come to areas of compromise." The EU is not open to proceed with discussions on a future trade deal, without the UK clarifying the nature of its commitment, especially the financial one. Barnier said that a “clarification of the UK position is indispensable for us to negotiate and for us to make sufficient progress on this financial dossier, which is inseparable from the other withdrawal dossiers. What we want - and we are working on this - is an orderly withdrawal for the United Kingdom, that’s decided. An orderly withdrawal means accounts must be settled.”

In regards to the financial settlement, Davis recognised “the importance of sorting out the obligations we have to one another, both legally and in a spirit of mutual cooperation….But, as Michel said, we should not expect incremental process in every round.”

2. EU nationals’ rights

There was a “fundamental divergence” between the EU and the UK over the rights of EU citizens and whether these should be guaranteed by the European Court of Justice. Barnier added that in terms of citizens’ rights there were differences especially on "the rights of future family members or the exports of certain social benefits." For Barnier, “Citizens must be able to identify the legal certainty that they need for their day-to-day lives.” This can only be done through the European court which can decide on these rights: “This is not a political point we are making, it’s a legal one. Simply, if there is to be continuity of EU law, that has to be framed by case law of the court. Only the court can interpret EU law. It’s not a choice, it’s an obligation,” Barnier explained.

Davis repeated the government’s position that the UK had proposed “a fair and serious offer” on citizens’ rights.

But, at the end of the talks this week, it has become clearer that the threat of restrictions and the inability of British citizens to live in another EU member state in the near future was a real concern. Almost 5 million UK and EU nationals living in the EU and the UK, respectively, are uncertain about their status and rights after Brexit. It is unclear how a UK citizen, currently residing in any European city, would be able to move to another member state after Brexit.

Furthermore, questions arose in regards to Britain’s plans to run criminal records checks on EU nationals when they apply to move to the UK, how British nationals in other EU countries would be able to acquire certain documents that prove their post-Brexit status, and the possibility of British citizens retaining their European health insurance card. 

3. Ireland

Barnier and Davis approached the discussion over the impact of Brexit on Ireland by touching upon the Good Friday Agreement and the Common Travel Area. Barnier said that they both agreed “that the important issue of the Good Friday Agreement, in all its dimensions, requires more detailed discussions. In particular, more work needs to be done to protect North-South cooperation between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Today, that cooperation is embedded in the common framework of EU law and EU policies. We need to better understand how the UK intends on ensuring the continuation of this cooperation after Brexit.”

Davis said that the UK government is aware of its obligation to remain impartial over Ireland, despite the DUP deal, while Barnier avoided commenting on the UK’s internal politics. He did quote Churchill by saying that both sides needed to be responsible: “the price of greatness is responsibility.”

At the moment, the most disconcerting issue that has been troubling so many people is the uncertain future status of UK citizens living in the EU and that of EU nationals living in the UK. Without a reciprocal arrangement and clear guarantees from the UK, this would remain one of the key and divisive issues as the negotiations progress.

Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary, Keir Starmer, criticised the “lack of progress in these negotiations” as “deeply concerning.” The likelihood that the negotiators might be unable to proceed in autumn with the discussions on trade “will trigger deep concern for businesses and communities across the U.K, who need much greater certainty and reassurance than they are getting from this Government,” Starmer warned. 

There are three more rounds of Brexit talks in August, September and October, before an EU summit in October.